Here in 2020, as if we didn’t need anything else to worry about, news has emerged that Vespa mandarinia — also known as Asian giant hornets and in headlines as “murder hornets” — was identified in the Pacific northwest late last year. To be clear, New England has more to fear from our native hornets than this immigrant species on the other side of the continent, but there are still some things you should know.
The Asian giant hornet is the largest predator of its kind, with a two-inch body length, three-inch wing span, large mandibles it uses to decapitate prey, and a quarter-inch stinger that can penetrate an exterminator’s protective equipment. Like other hornets, it rarely attacks humans unless provoked. But it packs a serious punch when it does, delivering multiple stings and up to seven times the amount of a honeybee’s venom. Some reports claim that the Asian giant hornet accounts for around 50 human deaths a year in its native Japan and China. (By comparison, 89 U.S. deaths were caused in 2017 by our own hornets, wasps and bees.)
Honeybees are at the greatest risk from Asian giant hornets. When the predator scout discovers and reports a honeybee hive to its own colony, they can destroy the entire bee colony in a matter of hours, tearing the heads off of adults (hence the name “murder hornet”) and carrying its victims and their larva back home for a feast. This threat is particularly troubling in the U.S., where honeybee populations are already being decimated by parasites, viral diseases, and pesticides. Japanese honeybees have developed defense mechanisms for an invading murder hornet, but experts predict that European honeybees (most common in the U.S.) won’t stand a chance.
Hopefully, honeybees and humans in North America will have little to fear of the Asian giant hornet. After detecting a few nests on British Columbia’s Vancouver Island and one dead specimen in Washington state, entomologists are now conducting an aggressive program to monitor and capture queens this spring as they emerge from their underground winter homes.
In the meantime, we shouldn’t forget this intruder’s smaller cousins, like the bald-faced hornet. Read our post from last year on what to watch for and be wary of with these painful pests.Tags: hornets