The newly nicknamed “murder hornet” has arrived in Washington state and is generating quite the media buzz. Initial news stories of this development were published in late 2019, with a New York Times article describing the Asian giant hornet’s arrival. It is unclear why this story is currently resurfacing with the rebrand and with “murder hornet” moniker.
“Murder hornets… another thing on the apocalypse bingo that 2020 apparently has going,” Alyssa Miville said, a graduate of Susquehanna University. “The timing of them seems almost coincidental with everything else going on.”
Miville’s is a common thought shared by many people, as social media posts and memes will attest.
The hornet is the largest in the world and is found across Asia, measuring four centimeters long with a stinger a quarter-inch long, making it the largest. The insect is known by names across Asia like the “general officer hornet” in Korea, “tiger head bee” in China, and “great sparrow bee” in Japan. It earns its Japanese nickname from the fact it is large enough to be mistaken as a sparrow and can be heard flying from a distance.
In addition to being a pain in Japan, they also use them for delicacies and in cooking. Rural Japanese cook and eat them whole, with the stinger intact. They have cooked them on skewers and have used them for a variety of alcoholic beverages.
Before arriving in the United States, these hornets have also landed in the United Kingdom and France, which is bad news for the honeybees. Authorities have been quick to eradicate any nests they find as soon as possible.
Just like other hornet species, they will only attack if they feel threatened, according to wildlife expert and YouTuber Coyote Peterson. He elaborates that if you do encounter a murder hornet, it is best to back away and take a photo from a distance, if possible, to send to Fishing and Wildlife departments.
Peterson is famous on YouTube for his videos documenting the worst stings of the animal kingdom. There are several videos on the channel of him purposefully stinging himself with dangerous insects for educational purposes. He has been stung by the tarantula hawk, velvet ant (cowkiller), bullet ant and, yes, the Asian giant hornet.
He describes the sting as one of the most painful he has ever endured, ranking as the second-worst one he has taken. The number one sting belongs to Latin America’s Executioner Wasp.
When asked if they wanted to be stung by a murder hornet, assistant manager at Allenwood Dollar General Carrianna Berger said, “NO.”
Despite what may be dismissed as media hype, it does live up to its name. The hornet kills an estimated 30 to 50 people in Japan every year. Peterson says if people die, it is not going to be directly from the sting but the secondary allergic reaction the venom triggers.
This species of hornet is native to Asia, which makes it invasive to the United States. Concerns from the scientific community and beekeepers have arisen because of the hornet’s predatory and aggressive nature. European honeybees are more at risk than humans, as the hornets attack hives. One wasp can kill several bees in a minute, and a small group of wasps can destroy the hive in hours. After the hornets have killed all the defenders, the hornets will then feed on larvae and pupae, according to National Geographic.
Unlike European bees, Japanese honeybees have adapted alongside the hornets and have developed a defense measure to defeat the monsters. Instead of haplessly getting decapitated, the bees will shake their abdomens to signal when to attack. When they are ready, they swarm the wasp and beat their wings to raise their temperatures and cook the hornet alive.
Some concern has been raised in Pennsylvania over a similar-looking insect. Penn Live was quick to jump ahead of potential panic by writing about the cicada killer. The cicada killer is a wasp that they assume people think looks like the Asian giant hornet. The cicada killer is nothing to worry about, as it is not very aggressive and only females can sting. When they do sting, it will be in response to a perceived threat to their life. Images show the cicada killer as looking like a yellowjacket. Penn Live describes them as “oversized” and “paler” compared to jackets. People have more to worry about from yellowjackets than they do cicada killers, as yellow jackets are more aggressive and are encountered more often.
The real concern for Pennsylvania regarding invasive species is the Spotted Lantern Fly, also from Asia. They have real potential to do actual harm to ecosystems in the state, making them much more of an immediate threat to PA citizens than giant hornets. In addition to concerns of invasive species, Washington state has another that is much more worrying. The Asian Gypsy Moth has also arrived on western shores, and unlike the hornets, are much more destructive. It can devastate forests and fly long distances, so there is a higher probability it will find its way to Pennsylvania and be more of a concern than Asian hornets. But Asian Gypsy moths aren’t as frightening of a story subject as compared to murder hornets, now is it?