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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

How Electrical Harps Are Defending Honey Bees

By 2021, Michel Costa had turn out to be a annoyed veteran of an obscure but devastating battle in Europe. The enemy: invasive Asian hornets, which had been massacring his honey bees by the thousand. Costa had fought the invaders on the outskirts of Bordeaux, France, swatting them with an electrical racket as they hovered outdoors his hives. He had taken the battle to the timber, crystallizing them by injecting their nests with a chemical disinfectant. And he had fought them from the bottom, blasting the best of their nests into oblivion with a troop of native hunters armed with shotguns. However no matter Costa and his comrades tried, the hornets saved coming. 

Michel Costa with a hornet's nest.Michel Costa with a hornet's nest.
Michel Costa with a hornet nest. Courtesy of Michel Costa

In order that yr, when Costa, a retiree and avid beekeeper, found a brand new weapon with the potential to vary the course of your entire battle, he was intrigued. A number of firms had begun promoting so-called “electrical harps,” which they claimed may kill the hornets in droves by electrocuting them as they flew via. When a close-by apiary reported issues with a swarm of them, he leapt on the alternative to check one, putting it on prime of a bin the place hornets had gathered. Costa then watched in awe because the harp killed “a whole lot” of them, one after the other, inside minutes. “The demonstration of its effectiveness was staggering,” he says.

Till that day, Costa and lots of different European beekeepers had struggled to search out any environment friendly technique of repelling the hornets’ assaults. Asian hornets first arrived in France from China in 2004, having hitched a journey in a transport crate. Again of their Asian homeland, they predate a various food plan of different creatures, together with honey bees. The honey bees indigenous to these territories have developed methods to evade the marauding hornets over time. However the hornets’ invasion of Europe caught native honey bees defenseless. Based on one estimate, an Asian hornet can decapitate, dismember and feed the susceptible European honey bees to their larvae at a price of 30 per day. 

The hornets have been inflicting chaos in apiaries throughout western Europe, penetrating deeper into the continent yearly. First France fell, then Spain, Portugal, Italy, Britain, Austria, Germany, Belgium and others. One scientific evaluation estimated that as much as 29 % of France’s bee colonies may collapse yearly consequently. Different international locations got here to comparable conclusions. This not solely will increase the price of honey manufacturing, but additionally locations total ecosystems in danger on account of the decreased pollination exercise, by which honey bees play a major half. And this risk is not contained inside Europe. In August 2023, scientists confirmed that Asian hornets had flown into US airspace for the primary time.

An Asian hornet outside a hive.An Asian hornet outside a hive.
Asian hornets first arrived in France in 2004 by way of a transport crate. Credit score: S. Richard Cervera / INRAE

As a result of European honey bees are unable to guard themselves, beekeepers and scientists have over the previous couple of a long time been experimenting with totally different technique of defending them. They tried trapping the queen hornets, searching the hornets’ nests and defending the honey bees’ hives with particular “muzzles” that prevented the hornets from getting into. However no matter they tried, the answer proved unsustainable (due to expense or time), ineffective or unacceptably dangerous to different animal species. 

Even concerted, organized makes an attempt to seek for and destroy the nests have confirmed unsuccessful in eliminating the hornets, in accordance with French entomologist Denis Thiéry, one of many first to start out learning them. “Even if you happen to lure 20 queens,” he says, “it is sort of a drop of water within the sea.”

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