Invasive ‘Yellow-Legged Hornet’ Poses Threat to Honey Bees

Invasive ‘Yellow-Legged Hornet’ Poses Threat to Honey Bees

Florida beekeepers are on high alert as the invasive Vespa velutina hornet poses a threat to honey bees, prompting vigilant monitoring to safeguard against potential impacts. Photo by Danel Solabarrieta, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Florida beekeepers are on high alert as the invasive Vespa velutina hornet poses a threat to honey bees, prompting vigilant monitoring to safeguard against potential impacts. Photo by Danel Solabarrieta, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

A concerning discovery has emerged in Savannah, Georgia, regarding the yellow-legged hornet, commonly known as the “murder hornet’s cousin.” Officially identified as Vespa velutina by the Georgia Department of Agriculture in August 2023, it was first encountered by a beekeeper in the area.

The size of a nickel, Vespa velutina has distinctive black and yellow coloring with yellow/white legs. Photo by Gilles San Martin, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

The size of a nickel, Vespa velutina has distinctive black and yellow coloring with yellow/white legs. Photo by Gilles San Martin, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Although distinctive from the infamous “murder hornet,” the yellow-legged hornet, initially confirmed in Vancouver and the neighboring Whatcom County in Washington state, both hornet species pose threats to honey bee larvae and adults.

Approximately the size of a nickel, Vespa velutina features distinctive black and yellow coloring with yellow/white legs, earning it the nickname “yellow-legged hornet.”  The discovery of the yellow-legged hornet has therefore spurred proactive measures to prevent its establishment in Florida and the rest of the United States.

The invasive nature of the yellow-legged hornet, originating from Southeast Asia and first appearing in Europe in 2004, poses a significant threat to beekeepers. This is due to its status as a generalist predator with honey bees as a primary target, intensifying concerns within the beekeeping industry.

The life cycle of the yellow-legged hornet begins with a single queen establishing a nest, laying eggs, and awaiting the emergence of workers. Nests can be found in various locations, growing to an average of 6,000 individuals. Predation on honey bee colonies increases during the summer months, with the hornets mating later in the year. The annual life cycle concludes with the death of all workers and males, and new nests are constructed in the following year.

Vespa velutina secondary nest, with adult hornets huddled together warming up in the sun. Photo by YVO-Photos, Adobe Stock.

Vespa velutina secondary nest, with adult hornets huddled together warming up in the sun. Photo by YVO-Photos, Adobe Stock.

Remarkably, a single mated female has the potential to initiate a new colony. Primary nests, starting as small as a tennis ball, undergo significant expansion. Secondary nests, reaching heights of up to one meter and containing over 17,000 cells, are typically situated at altitudes of 60 to 70 feet, making them challenging to access. A single hornet nest has a voracious appetite, as it can consume up to 25 pounds of insect biomass in a single season, underscoring the ecological impact of yellow-legged hornet colonies.

As a predatory wasp, the yellow-legged hornet feeds on a variety of arthropods, displaying opportunistic behavior, including feeding on decaying animals. While the ecological impact is not fully understood, DNA in the gut of hornets shows that they feed on other wasps, bees, butterflies, moths, and spiders. However, honey bees, particularly Apis mellifera, are preferred targets, posing a significant threat to the beekeeping industry. Reports from Europe suggest that up to 30 percent of honey bee hives are weakened by attacks, with approximately five percent facing complete destruction.

A male Vespa velutina, which exhibits longer, thicker antennae compared to females and, in line with all Hymenoptera males, lacks a stinger. Photo by Gilles San Martin, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

A male Vespa velutina, which exhibits longer, thicker antennae compared to females and, in line with all Hymenoptera males, lacks a stinger. Photo by Gilles San Martin, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Initially attracted to the honey bee hive by hive pheromones, yellow-legged hornets position themselves away from hive entrances, waiting for returning foragers, resulting in a “carpeting” of workers at the entrance. This term refers to the clustering or accumulation of honey bee workers near the hive entrance as they attempt to defend against the invading hornets. This behavior unfortunately leads to decreased colony production.

In response to this discovery, the UF/IFAS Honey Bee Research and Extension Laboratory is collaborating with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) to disseminate information and efficiently handle reports of hornet sightings.

It’s essential to note that there are many domestic species, native to the United States, that closely resemble the invasive hornet but do not pose a threat to honey bees; in fact, many of them are valuable pollinators. The USDA has a photo gallery of these lookalikes, which can be accessed by visiting and searching for ‘yellow-legged hornet.’

Vigilance from the public is crucial in minimizing the potential impact of Vespa velutina on honey bee populations in Florida and beyond. Photo by Danel Solabarrieta, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Vigilance from the public is crucial in minimizing the potential impact of Vespa velutina on honey bee populations in Florida and beyond. Photo by Danel Solabarrieta, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

While the yellow-legged hornet can easily be confused with other hornets that are not problematic to honey bees, residents who believe they have identified Vespa velutina are encouraged to call the FDACS hotline at 1-888-397-1517.

If a sample is collected or a clear photo of the suspected hornet is available, please email along with location information to facilitate monitoring efforts.  Vigilance and cooperation from the public are crucial in minimizing the potential impact of the yellow-legged hornet on honey bee populations in Florida and beyond.

For more information about the yellow-legged hornet, refer to the Vespa velutina UF/IFAS Featured Creatures fact sheet.

Roll it out if it’s curled up!

Roll it out if it’s curled up!

Identifying the Bean Leafroller (Urbanus proteus), also known as the longtail skipper, is crucial for gardeners. Here’s how to recognize them: inspect your garden for rolled leaves with irregular edges; if found, gently unroll them to reveal potential bean leafroller larvae. These larvae undergo five distinct growth stages, initially appearing yellowish with a brownish-black head.

Distribution: the bean leaf roller is commonly found in residential gardens and is widespread across Florida and other regions. It becomes a late summer nuisance pest, primarily affecting leguminous plants such as cowpeas, lima beans, peas, snap beans, and soybeans. However, it’s worth noting that this insect also inhabits other plants like wisteria, tick trefoil, butterfly pea, and hog peanut. Being able to identify and manage this pest is essential for protecting your garden’s productivity and ensuring the health of your plants.

Lifecycle: The bean leafroller undergoes a lifecycle that spans approximately 30 days. While it reproduces year-round in southern Florida, its presence in northern Florida is more sporadic until June. As the season progresses, it becomes more abundant, typically peaking in September to October. The adult bean leafroller is relatively large, boasting a wingspan of approximately 50 mm, with its distinguishing feature being the elongated hind wings, resembling a tail. The eggs, which are laid either individually or in clusters of two to six, initially appear white and gradually transition to a yellow color over time.

Inspect Your Plants: The larvae of these leafrollers are defoliators, consuming only the leaf tissue of leguminous plants. They create a distinctive shelter by cutting a small triangular portion at the leaf’s edge, folding it over, and residing within this concealed space. This behavior evolves as the larvae progress through different developmental stages including the pupal stage. Monitoring your plants for these characteristic signs of leaf damage is crucial for early detection and management of the bean leafroller, helping protect your garden’s health and productivity.

Safeguarding Your Plants: Insecticides can be quite effective for control or suppression, particularly in the later parts of the season. Additionally, employing biological control agents is a viable option. Predatory behavior has been observed in various studies that have been conducted.

For more information visit. Bean leafroller – Urbanus proteus (Linnaeus) (

Mole Crickets

Mole Crickets

A mole cricket has a face only a mother could love. They are so strange looking, in fact, that in the past week I’ve had two people ask me what they were. They have large, round, helmet-like heads, undersized eyes, and massive front claws used for digging. Unlike your garden-variety crickets, which really don’t cause any major damage to home landscapes, the mole cricket is quite the turfgrass menace. Instead of hopping about aboveground, they tunnel beneath the lawn and feast on the roots and leaves of grass, often destroying entire yards. They are also vegetable pests, going after tomatoes, cabbage, and peppers.

A young mole cricket. Its round head and large front claws distinguish it from other cricket species. Photo credit: Lucy Adams Stevenson
A) Horizontal and B) vertical view of a generalized tawny mole cricket burrow showing
1) horn, 2) 1st constriction, 3) bulb, 4) 2nd constriction, 5) turn-around,
6) surface tunnel, and 7) deep tunnel. Figure 1 from Nickerson et al. 1979. Ann. Entomol. Soc. Am. 72(3):438-440.

Mole crickets spend most of their time below ground and form burrows for hiding, laying eggs, and traversing through their territory. In mating season, males create a monotone song that averages 88 decibels—as loud as a motorcycle! The call comes from their burrows, which have funnel-like openings that expand at the surface, creating amplification comparable to a horn.

Beneficial larra wasp parasitizing a tawny mole cricket. Photo credit: UF IFAS

The tawny mole cricket (Neoscapteriscus vicinus) is the most common to our area and is an invasive species from South America. UF IFAS has had a specific research program related to mole cricket management since the late 1970’s. One successful outcome of this program has been the introduction of a biological control species, the larra wasp (Larra bicolor). The wasp manages mole cricket populations by stinging and temporarily paralyzing crickets. A female will then deposit an egg into the mole cricket’s body. The cricket recovers and goes about its daily routine until the egg hatches, at which point the larval wasp feeds on and eventually kills the mole cricket. Along with the wasp and release of flies and a nematode that also manage mole crickets, the biocontrol methods introduced between the 1980’s and 2004 have resulted in a 95% reduction in mole cricket populations in north Florida.

If you are seeing mole crickets, you can attract larra wasps to your property by planting shrubby false buttonweed or partridge pea plants, which the wasps feed on. If you have serious damage from mole crickets, check out this thorough Mole Cricket Integrated Pest Management Guide, or contact the horticulture agent at your local county extension office to get a site-specific recommendation for management.

My Mexican Petunias are Fuzzy!

My Mexican Petunias are Fuzzy!

Many of the Mexican petunia plants, Ruellia simplex, growing in the landscape along the Gulf Coast are covered in white patches. The leaves appear to be growing fur, actual hairs, much denser than the dust of powdery mildew fungus. Excessive development of leaf trichomes, or surface hairs is referred to as erinea. The “fuzz” is the plant’s response to the feeding of eriophyid mites, also called gall mites. These native tiny, microscopic mites feed on the Mexican petunia leaves and stems, causing the plant to produce the white velvety masses. The distorted tissue provides shelter so the mites can continue to feed without being impacted by the weather or contact pesticide applications. Hot, dry conditions favor mite population increases.  We have had plenty of that.  However, the native mites are not likely to kill the invasive Mexican petunia, so they are not acting as an effective biological control for the plant.

Mexican petunia problems
Mexican petunia damage from the eriophyid mite.

Control of this native eriophyid mite begins with heavy foliage removal. Cutting the plants back to just a few inches above the ground removes the infested portion of the plant. The pruned parts need to be placed in a tightly sealed plastic bag before being sent to the landfill. If the location allows burning on-site, that is an even better option. Remember that these mites can feed on many other plants if allowed to escape.  They have caused galls in crape myrtle, loropetalum, and hollies, as well as, vectoring diseases like rose rosette.

Then comes the tough decision. If the Mexican petunia is not one of the new sterile cultivars should the new growth be protected as it grows back? If you didn’t plant them or don’t remember what they were called when you purchased them, there is still a way to determine whether they are the invasive Mexican petunia or not.  Invasive Mexican petunia produces seed after flowering. Were there any seed pods on the pruned parts? If so, you may consider killing off the entire planting. Several applications of a total vegetation herbicide with surfactant will remove them, leaving you a spot for a new purple flower, maybe a porterweed (Stachytarpheta), verbena or blue salvia.

Blue porterweed can be a substitute for non sterile Ruellia. Photo by Beth Bolles UF IFAS Escambia Extension

If your plants are sterile (have no seed pods), an application of horticultural oil and/or a miticide like abamectin sprayed with each flush of new growth will produce a pretty bed of purple flowers in a short period of time.

Japanese beetle – Be Aware of the Potential Threat, Stay Informed.

Japanese beetle – Be Aware of the Potential Threat, Stay Informed.

Credit: Worrel Diedrick, Florida A&M University

They are known for their voracious feeding habits, targeting a wide range of plants, including ornamentals, fruit trees, and vegetables. I speak of no other than the Japanese beetle (Popillia japonica) an invasive species in the United States, originating from Japan.  

Though reports have been made of Japanese beetle sightings in Florida, there is still not a known established population. However, it’s important to note that the status of Japanese beetles in Florida can change, potentially rapidly, over time. Thus, it is important to be able to identify the species’ host plants and damaged caused. Early detection, monitoring, and swift action can help minimize the potential damage caused by invasive species like Japanese beetles that could potentially have negative impacts on agricultural crops, gardens, and ornamental plants.


The adult Japanese beetle is an attractive pest that is generally metallic green, with bronze or copper-brown wing covers that do not completely cover the abdomen, revealing five patches of white hairs on each side and one pair on the last abdominal segment. These features distinguish Popillia japonica from all other similar looking beetles. In terms of shape, Japanese beetle generally have a broad oval body structure. Notably, the female beetles tend to be larger in size compared to their male counter parts.

Developmental stages usually take place under the soil after the female deposit her eggs. In most instances they complete their life cycle in one year emerging later in the summer months, however this varies based on locations.

Host plants

Japanese beetles have known to have over 300 host plant species; however, some common host plants include maples, soybean, ornamental apple species, plums, peaches, roses, blackberry, raspberry, limes, elms, grapes, and corn. Crepe myrtle and turfgrasses are also host plants.


Both adults and larvae cause plant damage. Adults feed on the foliage of host plants resulting in skeletonization of the leaves, while larvae feed on the root systems of turf and pasture species, affecting the ability of the plant to uptake nutrient and water from the soil.


If Japanese beetle populations do become established in Florida, it is generally advisable to take measures to manage the population such as physically removing them, using pheromone traps, or other integrated pest management strategies. Chemical recommendations are not currently available in Florida since this beetle is not reported as a pest problem. However, it is always advisable to contact your Local Extension office for recommendations. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has also provided some useful information on the Japanese beetle in their homeowner’s handbook titled “Managing the Japanese Beetle: A Homeowners Handbook’’.

For the most current and accurate information specific to Japanese beetles in Florida management and species identification, consult your extension office. Supporting document can also be found by clicking the link below.

Useful resources:

Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! Program Summary: Managing Pests

Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! Program Summary: Managing Pests

Syrphid larva and oleander aphids.
Syrphid larva and oleander aphids. Photo credit: Lyle Buss, University of Florida.

When we think of pests we tend to focus mainly on insects. Insects make up roughly 80% of animal life, however only about one percent of insects are considered pests. The rest help pollinate crops, kill pests, clean up dead stuff, and make honey. Unfortunately, plants suffer from many more types of pests such as weeds, disease, and us. This episode of “Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE!” was all about managing pests.

Many soft-bodied insect pests can be controlled with insecticidal soap. Many insecticidal soaps are on the market that can help control pests like aphids and whiteflies. However, dish soaps are manufactured for cleaning dishes and not labeled for pest control. More information on insecticidal soaps can be found in the publication “Managing Plant Pests with Soaps”.

Although dish soap isn’t a good option for insect control, there are some things from around the house that can be used to help manage pests. The publication “Do-It-Yourself Insect Pest Traps” offers some excellent options for monitoring and managing pests with traps.

Florida is home to a plethora of insect pests. The Ask IFAS website has many articles on insect pests common in the garden.

Companion planting is the practice of planting two or more plant species close to each other to improve growth and/or pest control of one or more of the species. The article “Companion Planting: What is it?” offers some great recommendations and examples of this technique. Marigolds are an excellent companion plant because they can help deter and suppress nematode populations.

Some people prefer to only use naturally derived products for pest control. The publication “Natural Products for Landscape and Garden Pests in Florida” extensively reviews some of these products. Bacillus thuringiensis (BT) is a bacteria found in soil that can be used for caterpillar pest control.

We love our squash, cucumbers, and watermelons in the South, however there are a number of insects that like to eat them too. More information on cucurbit insect pests and their management can be found in the publication “Insect Management for Cucurbits”.

Armyworms like to feed on just about everything. The Ask IFAS website has a nice collection of publications on all types of armyworms.

Some fungi are fun to eat while others kill our landscape plants. One common fungal disease found in the landscape is Entomosporium leaf spot. This disease is very common on Indian hawthorns. The article “Keep an Eye on Your Indian Hawthorn” describes this disease and it’s control.

Aphids are a very common insect pest. In fact, some plant species have specific aphids. More information on different aphid species and their control can be found in the publication “Aphids on Landscape Plants”.

A plant in the wrong place is considered a weed. Some plants are particularly good at finding the wrong place and can take over our lawns. The publication “Weed Management Guide for Florida Lawns” offers solutions on controlling common lawn weeds.

Ticks can be pests of pets, livestock, and humans. Texas A&M has created an excellent website on everything about ticks.

Cockroaches do a nice job cleaning up litter when they’re outside, but we don’t need want them in our houses whether they’re cleaning up trash or not. The publication “Cockroaches and Their Management” is a great resource for cockroach species identification and management.

As previously mentioned, there are a lot more good insects than bad insects. For more information on predatory insects and biological controls check out the publication “Natural Enemies and Biological Control”.

Nature is fascinating and most people are lifetime learners. To help find out what you’re looking at, give the iNaturalist website and app a try.

Armadillos don’t mean any harm and can be kind of cute. However, they can make a mess of our yard and they build their dens in some undesirable locations. The publication “The Nine-Banded Armadillo” provides information on armadillos and their management.

Fire ants are pests of our lawns and pastures and their sting is brutal. For more information on fire ants please refer to the publication “Managing Imported Fire Ants in Urban Areas”.

Pests can be pesky, but they are manageable if you keep up with the art and science of their control. If you need help with identification and pest management options please don’t hesitate to contact your local Extension Office.

Past episodes of Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE can be found on our YouTube playlist.