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Everything You Need to Know About Murder Hornets

Image Credit:

Atsuo Fujimaru, Minden Pictures

Remnants of a Battlefield 

Ted McFall, a beekeeper in Washington State came home to discover his hives completely mutilated. The ground surrounding the hives was riddled with thousands of decapitated corpses, and when he took a closer look at the hives themselves, he noticed that they too, were obliterated. McFall investigated, searching for a culprit, but could find nothing. It wasn’t until later that it was presumed to have been the work of the new invading species of hornet: Murder Hornets. 

Murder Hornets 101

Vespa Mandarinia, the Asian Giant Hornet, are well known for causing such carnage and devastation. They earned their infamous nickname, ‘Murder Hornet’ due to their tendency to rip off the heads of innocent bees and wipe out entire hives in a matter of a few hours. They even occasionally try to inhabit the now desolate hives, creating a new colony of vicious hornets in its place. They are larger than any other hornet or breed of Aculeatas (stinging/flying insects including bees, wasps, yellowjackets, hornets, etc.) with their queens measuring up to 2 inches in length. Their faces are rather broad with tear-drop shaped eyes, and their coloration is a mix of yellowish-orange and dark brown/black stripes. The most notable feature on the murder wasp is its large, powerful mandibles and one large tooth that is used for burrowing. 

Their nests are subterranean which is why that large tooth comes in handy. While they often build their own nests following the queen’s creation of a rudimentary nest where she lays her first clutch of the year in spring, they have also been known to inhabit dens of other tunneling critters such as groundhogs, rabbits, skunks, voles, etc. They prefer to burrow in areas with low elevation and a high amount of coverage from trees and other foliage. 

Murder hornets are initially from Asia, inhabiting both the eastern and southeastern parts of the continent as well as being commonly found in Japan. However, they have somehow just made their way to the United States and are beginning to wreak havoc. First spotted in December 2019 in Washington State, they have spread out, now being found in Canada including a sighting in White Rock, British Columbia and the discovery of an entire hive on Vancouver Island.  

The Danger

Scientists are launching a widespread hunt for these violent invaders as they pose an enormous threat to our ecosystem at large. We are already facing a dwindling honeybee population, which puts a strain on the natural pollination of plants across our country, and the introduction of this new, aggressive species could decimate our bee populations. Eliminating these trespassing assailants as fast as possible, before they can spread too far and grow in population, is our best defense for our ecosystem. 

But, if you think you’re safe because you’re not a honeybee… think again!

Beekeeper Conrad Bérubé was assigned the job of eliminating the murder hornet nest found on Vancouver Island. Dressed in a bee suit complete with gloves and a bee-proof visor, Bérubé attempted to reach the nest. Before he could, however, the hornets initiated their assault. Their powerful mandibles and unyielding stingers were able to penetrate the suit and strike him. He described the encounter, stating that, “it was like having red-hot thumbtacks being driven into my flesh.” Other reports from people who have been unlucky enough to encounter these insects, corroborate this account, confirming that an attack from murder hornets is indeed agonizing and can lead to permeating aches/pains in the areas of attack. However, the pain is the least of your worries as, in extreme cases, the sting of a murder hornet can be fatal. 

In Japan, on average, a total of 30-50 deaths a year are caused by murder hornets and, between just July and October in 2013 in the Shaanxi province of China, 41 people were killed and 1,660 were injured by murder hornets. Due to this, it is very important to be cautious if you find yourself in the presence of these pests. “Don’t try to take them out yourself if you see them,” warns Chris Looney, entomologist at the Washington State Department of Agriculture, “call us! It is really important for us to know of every sighting if we are going to have any hope of eradication.” 

If you happen to spot this invasive species, call your local Department of Agriculture as soon as possible. 

Citations

Baker, M. (2020) ‘Murder Hornets’ in the U.S.: The Rush to Stop the Asian Giant Hornet, The 

New York Times. The New York Times Company. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/02/us/asian-giant-hornet-washington.html (Accessed May 2020). 

Barth, Z., Kearns, T. and Wason, E. (2013) Vespa Mandarinia, Animal Diversity Web.

University of Michigan. Available at: https://ainmaldiversity.org/accounts/Vespa_mandarinia/ (Accessed: May 2020). 

Martin, W. (2020) ‘Murder Hornets’ Spotted in the U.S. Here’s What You Need to Know, 

Science Alert. Business Insider. Available at: https://www.sciencealert.com/this-is-a-murder-hornet-and-it-s-currently-taking-over-the-us (Accessed: May 2020).

Rosane, O. (2020) ‘Murder Hornets’ Spotted in the U.S. for the First Time, EcoWatch. Available 

at: https://www.ecowatch.com/murder-hornets-honeybees-us-2645912097.html?rebelltitem=2#rebelltitem2(Accessed: May 2020).