Creature Control

What about those Murder Hornets?

The infamous year 2020 has finally drawn to a close and, for most people, it couldn’t end quickly enough. We’ll all look back on 2020 as a year of craziness. But when we do take a pleasant trip down memory lane, let’s not forget the Murder Hornets. What happened to them anyway?

In the spring of 2020, the so-called “Murder Hornets” became the newest macabre fascination of the year. There seemed to be no end to the hysteria over the fearsome stinging insects: stories of hornets killing elephants just by buzzing nearby, anecdotes about their excruciatingly painful stings, and conspiracy theories over their origin—were they released in the U.S. intentionally as a new type of hideous biological weapon? But what is the truth behind the 2020 Murder Hornet scare?

Though most people became aware of the giant Asian hornet (dubbed “Murder hornets” by the internet) with the Washington State Agriculture Department’s announcements in spring of 2020, the creature has actually been in the country for a few years. The first traces of the giant Asian hornet came in 2016 when the pupae/larvae of a “suspicious wasp” species were reported in Sacramento California. Their presence in the Pacific Northwest has been growing steadily ever since.

So what do the scientists say about these insects that built up such a deadly, apocalyptic internet personna in 2020? Washington entomologist, Dr. Chris Looney, says “They’re not murder hornets–they’re just hornets. The ‘murder hornet’ moniker has created a lot of fear and hysteria.That’s probably overblown. The human health risks are real. If you’re one of those unlucky people that stumble upon a nest and get stung, it’s definitely going to hurt–if you’re allergic…But on the grand scheme of risk to human life, it’s low compared to all the other stuff we do everyday”.  Doug Yanega, a senior scientist at United States of California Riverside Entomology Research Center, mentions that in Japan, Korea and China (where the hornets originate) people have “coexisted with these hornets for hundreds of years”. Illinois entomologist, May Berenbaum, compares the “Murder Hornet” to the mosquito, saying “The scariest insects out there are mosquitoes. People don’t think twice about them. If anyone’s a murder insect, it would be a mosquito.”

What, then, is the real threat from Murder hornets? As it turns out, the murder hornet’s primary targets are not humans or even most animals. Although stings would be nasty, and hospitalization because of allergic reactions are entirely possible, the giant Asian hornet is not out to get us. Rather, they are out for the bees.

Why is this such a big problem? Bees are the most important group of pollinators, and without them, human well-being would be severely affected. Because pollination is an incredibly essential ecological function, the loss of our prime pollinators would have detrimental effects on our ecosystems.  The giant Asian hornets enter a supposed developmental period (nicknamed “slaughter phase”) of special aggression toward bees. During the slaughter phase, they will attack hives, kill the local bees ,and eat the pupae. Additionally, our North American wild bees and honey bees are not equipped to fight off or defend themselves against these harmful hornets the same way Asian bees are. They are particularly vulnerable.

For humans, it’s best to avoid interaction with the hornets if possible.. Because of their larger size, they do carry more venom and can sting multiple times if they feel threatened.

What sort of action is being taken to address the “Murder hornets”?

Although they are not quite the apocalyptic-type insect they were cracked up to be, the presence of the giant Asian hornets in North America will be detrimental to our bee population and ecosystem. Scientists are currently working to pinpoint and destroy nests seasonally before the hornets begin the “slaughter phase.” Because they are a relatively new menace, scientists are not positive about how easy it will be to get rid of them or protect indigenous beehives.

We frequently have to deal with new species of insects, plants, and are constantly discovering new things. And although the so-named “Murder hornets” sound intimidating, they are no greater biological threat than anything we have had to face in the past. The best response, as with most threats, is a combination of caution and education.