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Murder Hornets: Fact & Fiction

Asian Giant Hornet: Fact & Fiction

By Jen Muro

Fictional movies (particularly the famous 1978 horror-classic film—THE SWARM), popular culture, an ignorant misleading nickname, and numerous sources of factual and fictional social media all played a role in making sure the “murder hornet” was, and still is the shining star currently and atop the pandemic crisis, and it was received with great alarm.

Here are some facts about these hornets.

Correctly called the Asian giant hornet-AGH (Vespa mandarinia), these solitary orange-headed, partially orange and black antennae, black and orange banded thorax invasive species have three different social hierarchies, the large queen which can be 2” long, whereas the workers: the males (stinger-less) and females (has stingers with potent venom) are smaller which is about an estimated 1 ½ inches long. Yet, there have been reports of them getting together and decapitating their prey (mostly honeybees). The reality is their diet consists of tree sap, honey from honeybees, groups of eusocial insects, and large insects. This V. mandarinia species is bewilderingly similar to the invasive Asian yellow-legged hornet (Vespa velutina) which is a problem in the UK and Europe. Their origins are tropical and temperate places such as Myanmar, Thailand, Russia, and Japan.

As of December 2019, the dead specimen was the first accepted sighting in Blaine, Washington State. Last summer and Fall, British Columbia’s Vancouver Island had located these specimens. It is unknown whether the species will stay in the NW or continue to find settlements further elsewhere which can be a problem. Asian giant hornets are being surveyed by Washington State Department of Agriculture, and properly taken care of.

The current paranoia of “murder hornet,” and “killer bees,” which both have misleading nicknames with ramifications such as ignorant, fearful people exterminating ‘look-a-likes’ such as pollinating bees, bumblebees, cicada killers, to name a few, outright, poorly assuming that they are the actual Asian giant hornet. Bug experts (entomologists) have known about these hornets, and share that there are approaches to regulating them. These insects do not sting unless provoked, just like other insects with stingers.

AGH does not attack people unless it feels threatened. They are known to attack and kill other bees in the late summer when developing males and future queens need extra protein to complete their life cycle. They do not attack and kill bees at other times.” (Source: Matthew A. Travis, USDA’s State Plant Health Director of the Maryland Field Office)

The toxins of honeybees are greater than the hornet, however, the hornets have an advantage to sting over and over, unlike the honeybees. “The stinger is long enough to pierce the standard protective gear beekeepers wear. A recent article in the New York Times claims that up to 50 people in Japan die from V. mandarinia stings each year.(Source: by, Paige Embry) Cleverly do honeybees know how to oust this predator with teamwork, by gathering together around the invader and “cook” them, which is by overheating them with their fanning wings. Visit this link 'Hornet Cooked by Japanese Honey Bees'

Importantly, there is great concern to the world’s already decimating pollinator populations which face a great number of challenges already, such as climate change, pesticides, pollution, degradation, habitat loss, fragmentation, diseases, and non-native species. Let’s also add a new one: ignorantly assumed fear of being something else they are not (i.e., the “murder hornet”).

Four effective solutions include: beekeepers can make honeybees’ entrance to their hives smaller that allows them to have access, and keep the Asian giant hornet out. Secondly, they can have baits to lure away these predators from the hives. Thirdly, their homes are mostly underground nests which need to be found and removed carefully by professionals. Lastly, once removed, the hornets are edible, which is also celebrated as a holiday feast in Japan. Bon appetit! (link attached to article explaining more!)

Overall, the Asian giant hornet is being carefully monitored and taken care of by entomologists and professionals, statewide. Most sightings are unconfirmed, and resemble the mentioned matches of cicada killers, et al. These fascinating insects deserve our respect, as well as all insects. We can learn from them, research them, separating fact from fiction, and leave them be, for most of the so-called duplicates are our necessary pollinators which are greatly needed.



Below is a to-scale size comparison of the Asian giant hornet and several other insects.

Please note that the European hornet is often confused with the Asian giant hornet but is the one species below which is not found in Washington. If you believe you have seen a European hornet in Washington, it should be reported to the WSDA pest program immediately with a photograph or by submitting the specimen.

ABOVE MENTIONED CAPTION (in italics) & PHOTO COMPARISON SOURCE: “Sizing Up the Asian Giant Hornet;” Washington State Department of Agriculture


SOURCES: Links attached to all sources for further exploration


*WORLD BEE DAY webinar: PROTECTING OUR POLLINATORS (Friday, May 15th, 10 a.m. EDT/ 4 p.m. CEST (In advance of World Bee Day, join us for a dynamic webinar on the importance of pollinators for our food system, the threats they face and best practices to safeguard them. The session will feature a preview of the documentary “The Pollinators” directed by Peter Nelson.)

*National Geographic has a current theme out as of this month (May 2020) pertaining to Elizabeth Kolbert’s published piece, “Where Have All the Insects Gone?”

*High season of swarms is April-May in Maryland.

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