Image Credit: Atsuo Fujimaru, Minden Pictures
Invasion of the Murder Hornets
What Are Murder Hornets?
Vespa Mandarinia, more commonly known as the Asian Giant Hornet, has a nasty reputation. They are infamous for being very aggressive and even deadly towards other flying Aculeatas, which is the branch of its species’ family tree which includes wasps, bees, yellow jackets, etc. Due to this reputation, the hornets have earned the monstrous nickname, “murder hornets.”
Surprisingly massive in size for a hornet, murder hornets can measure up to roughly 2 inches, making them the largest hornet in existence. They have broad yellow-orange faces, and their bodies are primarily dark brown/black with dark yellowish-orange stripes. Murder hornets have notably large mandibles allowing them to bite through a variety of difficult things.
These dangerous pests prefer to live in forested areas of lower elevation, and form subterranean nests, burrowing into the ground and even invading tunnels of other creatures such as rabbits, voles, etc. Their colonies begin in the spring when a fertilized queen establishes an initial nest where she can lay her first clutch of eggs. Once this first clutch hatches, the colony begins to grow and expand at an exponential rate, soon reaching several thousand.
Although these hornets are native to the eastern and southeastern parts of Asia, as well as being commonly found in Japan, they have somehow found their way to the United States. These pests were first spotted in December 2019 in Washington State, and are assumedly spreading out from there.
There have also been reported sightings in Canada. A few murder hornets were spotted in White Rock, British Columbia, which is roughly 10 miles away from where they were initially spotted in Washington, and an entire hive was discovered on Vancouver Island.
Straight Out of a Horror Film
Ted McFall, a beekeeper in Custer, Washington recalled the site he came home to one day. His colonies were completely mutilated. Thousands upon thousands of his bees lay dead on the ground, decapitated, and their hives were obliterated from the inside out. The weirdest part… there wasn’t a single suspect in sight. It wasn’t until later that McFall discovered it was likely the new invading species of hornet that had caused such carnage and devastation to his hives.
Murder hornets are known for chronically committing honeybee genocide like they did in this scenario. Using their large, powerful mandibles, they are able to tear off the innocent bees’ heads, then proceed to collect some of the bee thoraxes to bring back to their nest and feed their young. They can wipe out an entire hive in just a few hours and will even occasionally try to inhabit the now desolate hives, creating a new colony of vicious hornets in its place.
Scientists express a rising concern that these murderous invaders could decimate our already dwindling honeybee population. As such, they have launched the equivalent of a full-blown manhunt for these foreign invaders. The faster we can curb their numbers and eradicate them from our environment, the better chance we have to preserve our ecosystem.
Are We Safe?
While not typically aggressive towards humans or pets, when they feel in danger, murder hornets may lash out, biting with their strong mandibles and stinging their victims. Based on reports by those who have been stung, it is apparently very painful, with the beekeeper Conrad Bérubé who was assigned to eliminate the nest on Vancouver Island noting that, “it was like having red-hot thumbtacks being driven into my flesh.”
Murder hornets are even able to penetrate through bee suits to sting their victims, which is how Bérubé was dealt various agonizing stabs. In serious cases, these painful stings can be even be fatal, causing an average of 30 – 50 deaths a year in Japan alone.
For these reasons, it is very important to be extremely cautious if you come across these hornets and report any sightings to your local Department of Agriculture.
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).