Giant Asian Hornets

June 1, 2020

Caroline Lonneman, Eco Rep

Caitlin Griffith, Sustainability Coordinator

An Asian giant hornet.

Figure 1: An Asian giant hornet.

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In the past few weeks, “murder hornets” and their appearance have been cropping up in headlines in the United States. The story has been making the rounds on several social media sites, but often with little or conflicting information. With such a moniker, people are understandably nervous. Nevertheless, when dealing with something possibly dangerous to people and the environment, it is important to have as much information as possible.

So—what exactly are these insects? The term “murder hornet” is, thankfully, misleading. The true name of these hornets is the Asian giant hornet, Vespa mandarinia.

Like other hornets and bees, the sting of an Asian giant hornet is usually only life threatening to humans if anaphylactic shock occurs without quick treatment. Most often, Asian giant hornets travel from the hive alone, and thus people are not at high risk of being attacked more than once. A large quantity of stings can be dangerous, but has rarely led to fatalities in their native climate. According to entomologists who have worked with these hornets in their native habitat of Japan, the hornets are not aggressive towards humans unless their nest is disturbed.

Biology Professor Dr. Scott Rippel, who also runs UT Dallas’s apiaries, echoes these statements. “I would not be too fearful of [Giant Asian] hornet deaths.” Instead, he warns that the sting, which can be “extremely painful”, is similar or worse than a yellow jacket sting, but takes longer to fade.

Two dead hornets were found in the United States for the first time in late 2019, near Seattle and Washington. No nest has been found in the area, no injuries occurred, and both hornets have been removed. Extensive traps have been set up in the area. Asian giant hornets only forage about 700 meters maximum from their hives, so many experts believe the likelihood that a hive has remained hidden is low.

 

A volunteer sets up traps in Washington.

Figure 2: A volunteer sets up traps in Washington.

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Though not a high risk to humans, there have also been concerns about what this species could mean for bee populations. Asian giant hornets hunt bees and can decimate a hive, whether captive or wild, in a matter of hours. Native Japanese bees have effective ways to fight off the hornets, but bees in America lack these. Should Asian giant hornets become established in America, they could become a contributing factor to the decline of bees. Currently, pesticides and parasitic mites are much more dangerous to bee populations, resulting in losses up to 40% of honeybee colonies per year. Considering their range of 700 meters and the precautionary efforts being taken, many entomologists are confident that any remaining hornet hive could easily be found and destroyed before it posed a major threat to local bee populations.

Overall, it is unlikely that the Asian giant hornet will be able to establish a foothold in the United States, much less pose a threat to human or ecological life. However, having knowledgeable citizens is another way to combat this possible invasive species, as well as prevent fear and destruction of unrelated species mistaken for Asian giant hornets. If you live in the Washington area, or simply are concerned, use the steps below to differentiate an Asian giant hornet from other common bugs, and understand the next steps.

 

Sources

Baker, M. (2020, May 02). ‘Murder Hornets’ in the U.S.: The Rush to Stop the Asian Giant Hornet. Retrieved May 21, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/02/us/asian-giant-hornet-washington.html

Embry, P. (2020, May 06). Just How Dangerous Is the ‘Murder Hornet’? Retrieved May 21, 2020, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/just-how-dangerous-is-the-murder-hornet/

Grossman, E., Robbins, J., Popkin, G., & Marinelli, J. (n.d.). Declining Bee Populations Pose a Threat to Global Agriculture. Retrieved May 26, 2020, from https://e360.yale.edu/features/declining_bee_populations_pose_a_threat_to_global_agriculture

Higgins, A. (2020, May 20). ‘Murder hornets’ are creating a buzz, but relax. The sightings don’t signal end times. Retrieved May 21, 2020, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/home/a-giant-hornet-is-creating-a-buzz-but-relax-the-sightings-dont-signal-end-times/2020/05/19/b4d240b8-9544-11ea-91d7-cf4423d47683_story.html

Hornets | Washington State Department of Agriculture. (n.d.). Retrieved May 21, 2020, from https://agr.wa.gov/departments/insects-pests-and-weeds/insects/hornets

Kawahara, A. (2020, May 14). What are Asian giant hornets, and are they really dangerous? 5 questions answered. Retrieved May 21, 2020, from https://theconversation.com/what-are-asian-giant-hornets-and-are-they-really-dangerous-5-questions-answered-137954

 

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