After the pandemic shut down the world, news of the invading Asian Giant Hornet also flooded mainstream media. Although the stories quickly died down, they recently cropped up again after a reported “murder hornet” nest found in Washington State, the first of its kind. The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) led a successful operation to remove the nest. But the department warned that people should “use extreme caution near Asian giant hornets” and report a sighting immediately.
Although the WSDA is working with federal agencies to control the spread of these non-indigenous insects, evidence suggests that of at least two queens spotted in Washington, one mate.
While seemingly concentrated in Washington at the time, with reports of sightings in Oregon, Idaho, and British Columbia, vigilance is key to combat murder hornets.
How Can You Prevent Asian Giant Hornets From Making a Nest in Your Home?
Also known as the Vespa mandarinia, the Asian giant hornet is the world’s largest hornet and an invasive species in the United States. According to the New York Times, the murder hornet kills 50 people per year in Japan due to their aggressive nature. Besides Japan, murder hornets can be found in China, Thailand, and Nepal. Queens can grow as large as 2” long — a typical hornet is less than half the size. Besides the large size, the most distinctive trait of a murder hornet is its orange head.
Even if you don’t live in the affected area of “murder hornet” sightings, it is recommended to prepare your home to avoid allowing it to become a breeding ground for the invading species.
Natalie Barrett, Pest Control Supervisor at Nifty Pest Control in Australia, handles murder hornets for a living and warns that “unlike normal wasps, murder hornets make a home in underground nests.”
The expert recommends watching over your backyard and any areas where they may have an opportunity to hide. According to Barrett, “European hornets make a home in bushy areas, trees, and underleaves. Murder hornets prefer the ground and decaying logs.”
Honeybees and their larvae are a delicacy for the murder hornet. If you keep bees or have a “bee-friendly” garden and landscaping, remain especially vigilant for the Asian giant hornet.
To avoid the incredibly painful sting, Barrett suggests you “maintain your landscaping at all times, clean your waste bins regularly, ensure that your windows and doors are properly sealed, and avoid leaving flowers near entry spots like doors and windows.”
Why Are Murder Hornets a Threat?
Asian giant hornets earned the name of murder hornet because they’re more aggressive than other species of hornets. The sting is incredibly painful, but the real threat is against honeybees.
Murder hornets attack beehives and kill adult bees in the colony to devour the bee larvae. While Japanese bees developed a defensive strategy to counter murder hornet attacks, which requires them surrounding the intruder and overheating it to death, American honeybees are not accustomed to the aggressive predator and cannot defend themselves.
If murder hornets spread, they could destroy the already fragile bee population and endanger our food supply, which requires bees for pollination of plants and crops.
What Should You Do If You Spot A Murder Hornet?
If you spot a murder hornet, avoid it at all costs and contact your local USDA office. If you live in or near Washington state, you can call the WSDA at (360) 902-1800 to report the sighting.
If you find what you believe is a murder hornet nest on your property, it’s best to leave its removal to pest control professionals. Attempting to take matters into your own hands can be dangerous — murder hornets are aggressive, especially when threatened. According to Barrett, “It’s unlikely that you’ll be stung by just one murder hornet, others from the group will surely join the attack.” Also, they can sting through thick, protective wear.
If you’re stung by a murder hornet, treat the wound the same way you’d treat a bee or wasp sting. “The murder hornet’s venom is not as toxic as that of other stingers, but they can inject a larger quantity of venom with a single sting,” says Barrett. Monitor the bite for an allergic reaction and, if in doubt, get medical help.
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The Bottom Line
Asian giant hornets can be dangerous because of their aggressive nature and painful sting, but they pose a more significant threat to honeybees. Their namesake comes from their tendency to invade beehives, kill all the adult bees, and eat the bee larvae.
Federal agencies are working at controlling the murder hornet population. If predatory murder hornets spread, they could destroy the embattled U.S. honeybee population and affect our food supply since we rely on honeybees to pollinate our crops. Keep an eye for the large hornet with an orange head. If you spot one, keep your distance and contact the USDA or WSDA.
Photo by Hakase / Gettyimages