‘Murder Hornets’ Spotted in U.S. for the First Time
Invasive "murder hornets" have been spotted in the U.S. for the first time, prompting concerns for the nation's honeybees and the trajectory of a year that has already brought locust invasions and a global pandemic.
Four sightings of the world's largest hornets — officially called the Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia) — were reported and verified in Washington State in December 2019, according to the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA). But "murder hornet" began trending after the publication Saturday of a New York Times piece about Washington's efforts to find and eradicate the insects before they take hold, as NBC News reported.
"Murder hornets. Sure thing, 2020," actor and comedian Patton Oswalt tweeted. "Give us everything. Hypno-frogs. Fecal blizzards. Toilet tsunamis. A CATS sequel. We can take it."
Murder hornets. Sure thing, 2020. Give us everything. Hypno-frogs. Fecal blizzards. Toilet tsunamis. A CATS sequel.… https://t.co/tblYGIT3kT— Patton Oswalt (@Patton Oswalt)1588440087.0
But for honeybees, the Asian giant hornet is no joke. The hornets enter a "slaughter phase" where they decapitate bees, WSDA said. They destroy an entire hive within hours and then claim it as their own, feeding the brood to their young.
Washington beekeeper Ted McFall told The New York Times of driving home in November to find a pile of decapitated bee carcasses on the ground.
"I couldn't wrap my head around what could have done that," McFall told The New York Times. He later came to suspect murder hornets, though this has not been confirmed.
There have also been sightings of the hornet across the border in British Columbia, but at least one of the Canadian hives was proven to be unconnected to one of the Washington hornets, meaning the insect was likely introduced to the region at least twice.
While the hornets do not typically attack humans or pets unless threatened, their stings are extremely painful and can be deadly. They earned the nickname "murder hornet" because their group attacks can expose the victim to as much venom as a snake bite, Kyoto Sangyo University researcher Jun-ichi Takahash told The New York Times. In Japan, they kill as many as 50 people a year.
"It was like having red-hot thumbtacks being driven into my flesh," Conrad Bérubé, a beekeeper who was stung while exterminating a hive on Vancouver Island, told The New York Times of the experience.
The hornets are 1.5 to two inches long and have a yellow or orange head with bulging eyes and a black and yellow striped abdomen, according to WSDA.
"They're like something out of a monster cartoon with this huge yellow-orange face," Washington State University's (WSU) Department of Entomology bee breeder Susan Cobey said in a university press release.
#ICYMI Here is our image comparing #AsianGiantHornet to other flying insects. No, its name is not the #murderhornet https://t.co/cwIgIPGC1t— WA St Dept of Agr (@WA St Dept of Agr)1588546644.0
WSU is working with WSDA, beekeepers and citizen scientists to locate and contain the hornets now that they are beginning to become active again. Queens usually emerge from hibernation in April, but the species is most destructive in the late summer and early fall.
If scientists can't stop the hornets' spread, it is uncertain what it would mean for the nation's bees. In Japan, they are a serious problem for European honeybees, who have no natural defenses. A similar hornet introduction to Europe saw beehives decline 30 percent and their honey tally fall by as much as two-thirds, WSDA eradication coordinator Rian Wojah told TIME.
WSU entomologist Todd Murray said he was worried about what the hornets' spread would mean for a state that relies on bees to pollinate crops like apples and cherries. He warned invasive species could change ecosystems permanently.
"Just like that, it's forever different," Murray said. "We need to teach people how to recognize and identify this hornet while populations are small, so that we can eradicate it while we still have a chance."
If you see an Asian giant hornet and live in Washington state, you can help by reporting it to the WSDA Pest Program at 1-800-443-6684, firstname.lastname@example.org or online at agr.wa.gov/hornets. If you live outside Washington and think you spot one of the hornets, WSDA advises you contact your state or province's department of agriculture.
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Kevin T. Smiley
When hurricanes and other extreme storms unleash downpours like Tropical Storm Beta has been doing in the South, the floodwater doesn't always stay within the government's flood risk zones.
New research suggests that nearly twice as many properties are at risk from a 100-year flood today than the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood maps indicate.
Flooding Outside the Zones<p>About <a href="https://furmancenter.org/files/Floodplain_PopulationBrief_12DEC2017.pdf" target="_blank">15 million</a> Americans live in FEMA's current 100-year flood zones. The designation warns them that their properties face a 1% risk of flooding in any given year. They must obtain flood insurance if they want a federally ensured loan – insurance that helps them recover from flooding.</p><p>In Greater Houston, however, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2012.01840.x" target="_blank">47% of claims</a> made to FEMA across three decades before Hurricane Harvey were outside of the 100-year flood zones. Harris County, recognizing that FEMA flood maps don't capture the full risk, now <a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/floodinsurance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommends that every household</a> in Houston and the rest of the county have flood insurance.</p><p>New risk models point to a similar conclusion: Flood risk in these areas outstrips expectations in the current FEMA flood maps.</p><p>One of those models, from the <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/2020-national-flood-risk-assessment-highlights/" target="_blank">First Street Foundation</a>, estimates that the number of properties at risk in a 100-year storm is 1.7 times higher than the FEMA maps suggest. Other <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aaac65" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">researchers</a> find an even higher margin, with 2.6 to 3.1 times more people exposed to serious flooding in a 100-year storm than FEMA estimates.</p>
What FEMA’s Flood Maps Miss<p>Understanding why areas outside the 100-year flood zones are flooding more often than the FEMA maps suggest involves larger social and environmental issues. Three reasons stand out.</p><p>First, some places rely on relatively old FEMA maps that don't account for recent urbanization.</p><p>Urbanization matters because impervious surfaces – think pavement and buildings – are not effective sponges like natural landscapes can be. Moreover, the process for updating floodplain maps is locally variable and can take years to complete. Famously, New York City was updating its maps when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012 but hadn't finished, meaning flood maps in effect <a href="https://projects.propublica.org/nyc-flood/" target="_blank">were from 1983</a>. FEMA is required to assess whether updates are needed every five years, but the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/cis/nation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">majority of maps</a> <a href="https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2017/OIG-17-110-Sep17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are older</a>.</p><p>Second, binary thinking can lead people to an underaccounting of risk, and that can mean communities fail to take steps that could protect a neighborhood from flooding. The logic goes: if I'm not in the 100-year floodplain, then I'm not at risk. Risk perception <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab195a" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> backs this up. FEMA-delineated flood zones are the major factor shaping flood mitigation behaviors.</p><p>Third, the era of climate change scuttles conventional assumptions.</p><p>As the planet warms, extreme storms are becoming <a href="https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/" target="_blank">more common and severe</a>. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at a high rate, computer models suggest that the chances of a severe storm dropping 20 inches of rain on Texas in any given year will increase from about 1% at the end of the last century to 18% at the end of this one, a chance of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1716222114" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">once every 5.5 years</a>. So far, <a href="https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/195.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">FEMA hasn't taken into account the impact climate change is having</a> on extreme weather and sea level rise.</p>
Racial Disparities in Flooding Outside the Zones<p>So, who is at risk?</p><p>Years of research and evidence from storms have highlighted social inequalities in areas with a high risk of flooding. But most local governments have less understanding of the social and demographic composition of communities that experience flood impacts outside of flood zones.</p><p>In analyzing the damage from Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, I found that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aba0fe" target="_blank">Black and Hispanic residents disproportionately experienced flooding</a> in areas beyond FEMA's 100-year flood zones.</p><p>With the majority of flooding from Hurricane Harvey occurring outside of 100-year flood zones, this meant that the overall impact of Harvey was racially unequal too.</p><p>Research into where flooding occurs in Baltimore, Chicago and Phoenix points to some of the potential causes. <a href="https://www.nap.edu/read/25381/chapter/4#16" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In Baltimore and Chicago</a>, for example, aging storm and sewer infrastructure, poor construction and insufficient efforts to mitigate flooding are part of the flooding problem in some predominantly Black neighborhoods.</p>
What Can Be Done About It<p>Better accounting for those three reasons could substantively improve risk assessments and help cities prioritize infrastructure improvements and flood mitigation projects in these at-risk neighborhoods.</p><p>For example, First Street Foundation's risk maps account for <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/flood-model-methodology_overview/" target="_blank">climate change</a> and present <a href="https://floodfactor.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ratings</a> on a scale from 1 to 10. FEMA, which works with communities to update flood maps, is <a href="https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1521054297905-ca85d066dddb84c975b165db653c9049/TMAC_2017_Annual_Report_Final508(v8)_03-12-2018.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">exploring rating systems</a>. And the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently <a href="https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2019/03/new-report-calls-for-different-approaches-to-predict-and-understand-urban-flooding" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">called for a new generation of flood maps</a> that takes climate change into account.</p><p>Including recent urbanization in those assessments will matter too, especially in fast-growing cities like Houston, where <a href="https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1boBRyDvMFW6W" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">386 new square miles</a> of impervious surfaces were created in the last 20 years. That's greater than the land area of New York City. New construction in one area can also <a href="https://scalawagmagazine.org/2018/01/city-in-a-swamp-as-houston-booms-its-flood-problems-are-only-getting-worse/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">impact older neighborhoods downhill</a> during a flood, as some Houston communities discovered in Hurricane Harvey.</p><p>Improving risk assessments is needed not just to better prepare communities for major flood events, but also to prevent racial inequalities – in housing and beyond – from <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/03/05/688786177/how-federal-disaster-money-favors-the-rich" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">growing</a> after the unequal impacts of disasters.</p>
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