Unless you’ve been living under a rock or in the Big Brother house, you’ve probably heard about “murder hornets.” Vespa mandarinia, the Asian Giant Hornet, is the latest trend in apocalyptic news, sparking such an ardent panic that officials in states as far away as Tennessee are already laying the groundwork to trap the potential (albeit extremely unlikely) invaders.
So, should you be concerned? The short answer: No! Read on to find out why.
First off, “murder hornet” is a recent moniker introduced by a Japanese media outlet in 2008. US media immediately jumped on the name when sightings were reported, with headlines like,
‘Murder Hornets,’ With Sting That Can Kill, Land in U.S.
The “murder hornet” is as bad as it sounds
Invading ‘murder hornets:’ how their stings kill people, not just honeybees
and the double-whammy from CBS news:
“Murder hornets” have now entered the U.S. — and they could decimate the honeybee population
Forget “murder hornets,” experts say — this is the real “murder insect”
Okay, we’ve had our fun with sensationalism. At least, I find it fun, but only when I read these types of headlines in an old-timey transatlantic accent (go ahead, try it and read them again). Otherwise, they’re nothing short of frustrating.
First and foremost, no sightings have been reported in 2020. All sightings were from 2019; a couple single, solitary bees (that probably hitched a ride in a cargo container) and one hive (that was probably established by a pregnant queen that hitched a ride in a cargo container) that was found and destroyed in British Columbia, where the climate is cool and temperate (similar to their native habitat).
These hornets are not suited to extreme cold or extreme heat, meaning that outside the Pacific Northwest, they probably wouldn’t survive.
Okay, so what if they were to hypothetically spread? Let’s start with their threat to humans. With a stinger ¼ inch long and and sting that reportedly feels “like a hot nail being driven into [your] leg,” the fear of these hornets is palpable. But before you go out and buy a set of chainmail, consider the following:
News outlets claim that V. mandarinia claims up to 50 lives annually in China and Japan. However, these reports fail to mention that this number reflects total deaths by bees, hornets and wasps combined; not the Asian Giant Hornet alone. The death toll from bees, hornets and wasps is similar in the US, and most are the result of anaphylactic shock.
So no, the Asian Giant Hornet is not going to kill you. Remember, these animals come from a different country, not outer space. Humans have already been living with them for thousands of years.
The more realistic threat, is of course, to honeybees. V. mandarinia seeks out honeybee larvae to feed its own young, and is capable of destroying hives in its quest for sustenance. Yet the Japanese honeybee, Apis cerana japonica, and the asiatic honeybee, Apis cerana, have co-evolved with the Asian Giant Hornet and have developed defenses of their own.
Apis cerana japonica will “trick” the invader, coaxing it into their hive and then swarming once it has entered. The bees will form a “ball” around their intruder, beating their wings in order to cook it to death before it can summon reinforcements.
The bees that are kept by most hobbyists in the US are the European honeybee, Apis mellifera. As with all “native” species (I say “native” because Apis mellifera is not technically native to the US, having been introduced sometime in the 1600’s), any introduced predator can have devastating effects. However, there are techniques that have been used by apiarists in Japan to protect hives from an invasion of V. mandarinia, including surrounding their hives with wire mesh; a method that could be easily replicated by US apiarists.
The most concerning thing about sightings of the Asian Giant Hornets are the reactions from the media. Sensationalist articles can lead individuals to take matters into their own hands in order to protect their well-being; unnecessary pesticide use, bait-trapping and habitat destruction are all methods of hornet removal that will harm (already declining) native insect populations.
For more (reliable) resources on V. mandarinia, check out the following articles: