What is a Murder Hornet? (And Should We Be Concerned?)

Header Image Credit: Gary Alpert via Wikipedia.

What is a Murder Hornet?

With a body measuring up to 1.8 inches and wingspan reaching up to 3 inches, the Asian Giant Hornet is the biggest hornet in the world.

Using its 1/4-inch stinger, the Murder Hornet can deliver a hefty dose of potent venom, paralyzing, or killing its victim. They prey on other insects and honeybees but also have an appetite for tree sap and honey.

Asian Giant Hornet feeding on it's prey - Image Credit: Joe Carey via Wikipedia

The Asian Giant Hornet nests in tunnels they dig underground but have also been known to take over tunnels dug by rodents and other burring creatures.

Like many bee species, Asian Giant Hornets are social insects living in large colonies of workers with a single queen.

Murder Hornets are common in the tropical regions of East and Southeast Asia, and parts of eastern Russia.

Are Murder Hornets Dangerous?

The Asian Giant Hornet delivers a potent sting, far worse than any bee and most wasps. The pain can be excruciating with one person describing it as "a hot nail being driven into my leg."

While extremely rare, there have been recorded deaths from Murder Hornets in China and Japan. The venom can cause a fatal anaphylactic shock or cardiac arrest.

It is important to note that deaths from Asian Giant Hornets are a result of many stings (50 or more). Likely due to someone disturbing a nest. If you get stung multiple times, it is recommended you seek medical assistance.

According to the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA),

"Typical beekeeping protective clothing is not sufficient to protect you from (Asian Giant Hornet) stings."

So do not attempt to capture or approach an Asian Giant Hornet and call your local parks department immediately.

When Did The Murder Hornet Arrive in the United States?

There has been a lot of speculation and misinformation online that the Asian Giant Hornet is decimating North American bee populations. It's important to note that the Asian Giant Hornet is still very rare in the US and has only been sighted in northern Washington and British Columbia in Canada.

The Asian Giant Hornet was first discovered in the United States in Blaine, Washington, by a citizen in late 2019.

But the first discovery for North America was in September 2019 in British Columbia, Canada, where an Asian Giant Hornet nest was found and destroyed.

Since then, there have been several sightings and a few dead Murder hornets found in Washington State. But, as of July 2020, the Murder Hornet has not become a significant threat to the US or North America as yet!

First Trapped Asian Giant Hornet in Washington

Asian Giant Hornet trapped in Washington State, July 2020 - Image Credit: WSDA

In early 2020, the WSDA went about setting traps for Asian Giant Hornets. There are approximately 1,800 traps (including those set by conservation groups and the public), in northern Washington.

Ruler showing the size of the Asian Giant Hornet trapped by WSDA - Image Credit: WSDA

On July 31, 2020, the WSDA held a press conference announcing they managed to trap their first Asian Giant Hornet.

This Murder Hornet was trapped approximately 6 miles from where the first specimen was found in Blaine in late 2019. The WSDA is now working to find and destroy the nest before breeding starts in mid-September.

For more information and to follow any progress, you can check out the WSDA website.

What Threat Does the Asian Giant Hornet Pose to the United States?

Besides the potential harm to human beings, Asian Giant Hornets could have a severe impact on the US and North American wildlife.

We only have to look at Florida and how the non-native Burmese python has completely decimated several species of mammal. According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), "In a 2012 study, populations of raccoons had dropped 99.3 percent, opossums 98.9 percent, and bobcats 87.5 percent since 1997. Marsh rabbits, cottontail rabbits, and foxes effectively disappeared."

The Asian Giant Hornet could have a similar impact on US wildlife.

According to Wikipedia, the Asian Giant Hornet is "intensely predatory," often hunting and preying on entire colonies of insects in less than a few hours.

"Only a few hornets (under 50) can exterminate a colony of tens of thousands of bees in a few hours."
Excerpt from Wikipedia on the Asian Giant Hornet's predation habits.

When we consider that bee populations are already on the decline, the Asian Giant Hornet poses an additional challenge for the survival of North American bees.

These invasive hornets could also reduce other insect populations, which might affect other US wildlife and ecosystems.

What Can Citizens do to Help?

According to the WSDA, the best thing local citizens can do to help is to set traps. The WSDA provides detailed guidelines for how to build and manage Asian Giant Hornet traps here. There are plenty of risks and warnings, so be sure to follow these carefully before taking part.

Homemade Asian Giant Hornet trap - Image Credit: WSDA

These guidelines are for Washington State, you will want to contact your Department of Agriculture for information and advice.

Resources for Asian Giant Hornet

Here are some resources if you want to read more about the Asian Giant Hornet.

Wikipedia

Asian Giant Hornet Wikipedia Page

From the WSDA

WSDA Profile on Asian Giant Hornet

WSDA Traps its first Asian Giant Hornet

Trapping information for Washinton

Reporting information for Washington

The United States Department of Agriculture Resources

Pest Guidelines for Asian Giant Hornet

USDA Environmental Assessment July 2020

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