Sex pheromones could help stop ‘murder hornets’ from invading the UK and elsewhere and wreaking havoc, according to a new study.
The stimulating odors produced by a hornet queen can be used as bait to trap and track the invasive insects, say scientists.
Asian giant hornets, more commonly known as murder hornets, have been spreading across parts of North America and Europe.
While their nickname is misleading, they are threatening bee populations along with millions of pounds worth of crops.
Honey bees, some of the world’s most important pollinators, have few defences against these destructive insects, which can quickly destroy an entire colony.
So far, coming up with a solution to eliminate them has proven challenging, and even knowing where to look for them is tricky.
But now scientists in the United States have come up with a cunning plan to map their movements and end the invasion.
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Study author Professor James Nieh at the University of California, San Diego said, “My usual plea is that people should stop calling them ‘murder hornets’ because they are large and perhaps frightening but not truly murderous.
“They are amazing social insects, but they don’t belong in North America and harm our critical bee populations, so we should remove them.”
Three of the major chemicals found in the giant hornet queen’s sex pheromone were identified by the researchers, including hexanoic, octanoic, and decanoic acid.
They then captured male hornets by laying traps near their nests and places where they typically reproduce.
The hornets’ brain activity and antennae were highly sensitive to the pheromone, the researchers found.
These compounds found in the queen’s pheromone could easily be purchased and deployed in the field immediately.
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Professor Nieh said, “The males are drawn to the odors of the females since they typically mate with them near their nests.
“In two field seasons we were able to rapidly collect thousands of males that were attracted to these odours.”
The researchers are hoping to test their traps in more field locations to see whether they can chemically attract hornets over distances of a kilometre or more.
Professor Nieh said, “Because these pheromone-based traps are fairly inexpensive I think they could be readily deployed for sampling across a large geographic range.
“We know where they have been found, so the big question is whether they are expanding. Where is that invasion front?”
How Asian giant hornets, known scientifically as Vespa mandarinia, first came to North America has remained a mystery, but they have been documented in British Columbia and Washington state.
Models suggest they could rapidly spread across Washington, Oregon, and possibly the eastern United States.
Rather than patent their discovery, the researchers have published their findings in the hope it will help document the hornet’s spread.
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Where and how rapidly they are spreading could be mapped using predictive models once more traps have been deployed.
Professor Nieh said, “We hope that others, especially in invaded areas, will take the protocol we have established and test this method.
“We’ve described the chemical blends needed for these traps, which could reduce the number of males available to mate with females to help depress the population but primarily would help us figure out where they are.”
The findings were published in the journal Current Biology.
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