Top Ten Facts About Murder Hornets

The lovely face of a murder hornet, courtesy of the USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab

Remember that brief period of time when we thought we’d have to deal with murder hornets on top of everything else going on in 2020? Don’t worry if you don’t, it was pretty easy to miss in the midst of all the chaos. Nevertheless, today I’d thought I’d shed a little light on these forgotten horsemen (hornetmen?) of last year’s apocalypse:

1. “Murder hornets” isn’t their official name

What we’ve come to call “murder hornets” for, well, murdering bees, are actually Asian giant hornets. They are native to parts of India and eastern Asia and were not spotted on the North American continent until 2019.

2. They truly are giants

Asian giant hornets are actually the largest hornet species on the planet, reaching up to two inches in length. That’s about as long as three to four honey bees lined up head to stinger.

3. Yes, they have been spotted in the United States and Canada

The first murder hornet sighting in the U.S. was in the state of Washington in December 2019. No one knows yet how they got here, but so far they have only been spotted in Whatcom County, WA and British Columbia.

4. Honey bees and murder hornets don’t mix

One of the big concerns that arose around the murder hornets was that they would wipe out North America’s honey bee population. These angry insects ransack honey bee hives to eat or feed their young with the developing larvae and pupae inside. They also kill the adult bees by beheading them.

5. Honey bees aren’t the only victims

Aside from honey bees, murder hornets also prey on other insects, such as beetles and other hornets. Additionally, hornet and yellow jackets hives have been known to receive the same horrific treatment from murder hornets as honeybees.

6. Asian bees know how to put up a fight

Fortunately, bees living in the hornets’ native range have developed a few strategies for fending them off, including covering their hive entrances with animal feces. In terms of a less disgusting but still odd tactic, bees have also been known to bake the hornets to death by surrounding them and vibrating their wings really hard, increasing the temperature around their foe to 117 degrees Fahrenheit.

7. Getting stung is no joke

Not only are they quite painful, but murder hornets stings are more toxic than most bee stings, which can spell trouble if you’re allergic or get stung many times. Additionally, murder hornet stingers are long enough to puncture bee suits. Looks like it’s time for suits of armor to come back in style.

8. They have several look-alikes

A murder hornet (USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab)
…and an imposter (European hornet by Bj√∂rn S… on Flickr)

If you think you’ve spotted a murder hornet, don’t freak out, especially if you’re not anywhere near Washington or British Columbia. Both eastern and western cicada killers share an uncanny resemblance to murder hornets, although both have lighter markings and are noticeably smaller when compared side-by-side. European hornets also share similar features with murder hornets, but are also smaller and have a brighter yellow thorax.

9. Who you gonna call? The Department of Agriculture!

If you’re pretty sure that hornet you ran into this morning was of the murdering kind, and you live in Washington, you can report your finding here.

10. They’re really not a big deal at the moment

Fortunately, it doesn’t seem likely that the murder hornets will be terrorizing the U.S. or Canada anytime soon. Not only were the only two discovered nests mostly wiped out by officials, but traps are being set throughout Washington state and in nearby areas to decrease the likelihood of the hornets’ territory spreading. Besides, based on how last year went, I’m sure we’ll have volcanic eruptions or radioactive bears or something to deal with instead before the hornets can become a real issue anyway.

Then again, I thought COVID-19 was going to stay in Washington when it first hit the U.S., too. Maybe it’s time to trade in our face masks for chainmail bee suits.

Or anti-radioactive-bear darts. Let’s be honest: at this point, that wouldn’t surprise anyone.

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