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Texas A&M mobilizes 'murder hornet' task force

Posted at 5:01 PM, May 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-06 18:01:42-04

Texas A&M AgriLife has mobilized a " murder hornet " task force to head a possible emergence of the insects in Texas.

The invasive hornet was spotted several times in northwestern Washington state and Canada in late 2019. Governor Abbott has requested a specialized task force, lead by Texas A&M AgriLife experts, to protect Texans, agriculture and honey bees if the "murder hornet," or Asian giant hornet, arrives.

The hornet preys on bees and can decimate local honey bee populations. Honey bees are essential for most fruit and vegetable crop production.

The hornets are fiercely protective of their nests and can deploy painful stings that can be fatal.

“Although this pest has not been spotted in Texas, the hornet poses a threat to both agriculture and public health,” said Patrick J. Stover, Ph.D., vice chancellor of Texas A&M AgriLife, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and director of Texas A&M Agrilife Research. “Because of this, we are bringing to bear the diverse expertise and knowledge base that exists within Texas A&M AgriLife to collaborate with federal partners and extension agents across the country to protect our state and the global food supply.”

The task force consists of experts across several entities, including Texas A&M University System and Department of Homeland Security.

Experts are unsure how the insect ended up in North America. Washington state investigators are focusing on the possibility that a container ship or airplane may have inadvertently transported a fertilized female hornet.

“Part of our response is preparing our state entry points for cargo transportation,” said Greg Pompelli, Ph.D., director of the Center for Cross-Border Threat Screening and Supply Chain Defense. “We are developing training for Customs and Border Protection staff to be able to detect the Asian giant hornet. We are also increasing surveillance of incoming containers and evaluating opportunities for specialized detection, such as possibly using scent-trained dogs to find these hornets hidden in cargo or luggage.”

The task force is expected to provide several plans of action involving mitigation and possible statewide identification if needed.