QU Wasp specialist is sharp about ‘murder hornets’, first nest found in U.S.

By Jay Hammel

A nest consisting of the world’s largest wasp was captured and annihilated by a pair of scientists in Washington State on October 24.

The Asian Giant Hornet, known as the ‘Murder hornet’, can spit venom, targets honey bees and can eliminate a colony in a matter of hours.

A honey bee colony consists of a single queen, hundreds of males drones and 20,000 to 80,000 female workers.

Murder hornets are typically distributed in Eastern Asia and Quincy University‘s own wasp expert Joe Coelho, Ph.D., has spent the bulk of his career studying this invasive insect species.

“They’re murderous to bees but not so much people,” Coelho said. “Even though they are really big, the sting of this hornet is no worse than that of a honey bee. In Japan, the honey bee is a different species than ours and that has evolved a defense against the giant hornet.”

Pictured above is a male ‘murder hornet’ on the left and a queen on the right. On average, male hornets are half the size of females.

Coelho obtained his Ph.D. in Environmental, Population and Organismic Biology from the University of Colorado. His research primarily focuses on the physiological ecology of insects, especially solitary wasps, and also includes studies in cultural entomology, such as insects in music.

“I started working on insects in graduate school, so I did my doctoral work on honeybees,” Coelho said. “And then after I got out of graduate school, I started working quickly on wasps.”

Their are over 900 thousand different kinds of insects that make up 80% of the world’s species and not very many of them are well studied.

“It’s hard to do anything that is terribly original,” Coelho said. “When you work on an unusual species, it is a wide open field and there is hardly anything known about them and it is fun!”

In addition to being the Professor of Biology at QU and orchestrating Ecology, Environmental Science, Entomology, Plant field Biology and Vertebrate Field Biology courses, Coelho travels the world to add to his collection box of insects.

Coelho’s collection expands, yet, pictured below is the one that has what people tend to find the most interesting insects.

Included in this collection is the Bullet Ant, the insect with the world’s most painful sting. It is said to be comparable to being shot with a bullet.

Coelho only dissects and collects if he has a reason to, which is generally studying the species or conducting the experiments that interests him the most.

“I am an experimental biologist, I don’t just collect for the point of collecting,” Coelho said.

Coelho’s field courses have executed studies on carpenter wasps, great black digger wasps and the great golden digger wasp.

“My favorite is obviously going to be cicada killers because I have spent a lot of time studying them and they are really fascinating,” Coelho said.

Coelho says the life cycle of the Asian Giant Hornet, an invasive insect, can be certainly ambitious.

“One queen will start that colony in the spring and she’ll find a place to make a nest and collect food (honey bees), lay some eggs, feed those larvae and she’ll grow up her first batch of workers,” Coelho said. “ And once those start doing work, then she will just become an egg layer.”

The workers bees continue to reproduce throughout the summer, thus, generating the males and queens for next year.

“So the queens will mate over the winter and they’ll be out in the woods under the bark of a tree and then they come out the next year to start over again,” Coelho said. “Whereas, all the workers and males from the original nest, they just die.”

Several social wasps mimic that cycle including yellow jackets, which are the “ground bees” that tend to get run over by a lawn mower.

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