Male Asian giant hornets captivated by the chemical signals of a ready-to-mate queen could one day find themselves stuck in a trap instead.

In a new study, scientists identified three chemicals in the sex pheromone of Asian giant hornet queens. When traps with those chemicals were placed near the hornets’ nests in China — part of their native range — the traps ensnared thousands of males but no other insects, researchers report March 14 in Current Biology.

The finding is a step toward designing pheromone traps, a common tool to monitor or control insect populations, for these hornets, says James Nieh, a behavioral ecologist at the University of California, San Diego.

Starting in 2019, nests housing Asian giant hornets (Vespa mandarinia) — nicknamed “murder hornets” for their habit of feasting on honeybees — have popped up in a few places in western North America (SN: 5/29/20). Studies hint that the insects could spread across eastern Washington, Oregon and British Columbia in Canada, and scientists have launched efforts to control the invasion (SN: 10/1/20). The Washington State Department of Agriculture even encourages state residents to help trap the hornets using plastic bottles, orange juice and rice cooking wine.  

Asian giant hornet nest

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It’s unclear whether the traps work over longer distances. But hornet queens’ sex pheromones probably lure males from farther away to avoid “incestuous interbreeding,” Nieh says. The traps could be most useful in late fall during the hornets’ mating season.

The finding is “important work,” says Timothy Lawrence, an apiculturist at Washington State University in Coupeville, who wasn’t involved with the study. Finding a way to attract worker hornets, not just males in search of a mate, would be great, but the results are still a “major step forward,” he says. “The sooner we find a reliable way to attract males and find nests, the better.”


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