Over the weekend, The New York Times published a feature about the “fatal” Asian Giant Hornet—otherwise known as the “Murder Hornet.” The hornet made headlines this weekend because of its invasive status to the Pacific Northwest, raising questions about how the creature could impact the environment (and humanity) if given time to settle in the U.S. The article quickly resulted in social media spin-offs, retweets, and reposts about the hornets being the new 2020 horror for the month of May. Publications were quick to amplify the hysteria, emphasizing the massive size of the hornet and how potent its venom is.
I, too believed the invasive species was a threat to my life; after all, with a bug that big and mandibles that menacing, why wouldn’t it be a threat to humans? Because we’re not their primary target.
Murder hornets. Sure thing, 2020. Give us everything. Hypno-frogs. Fecal blizzards. Toilet tsunamis. A CATS sequel. We can take it. https://t.co/DSDpgKhKzQ
— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) May 2, 2020
Understanding the Giant Hornet
The original NYT article described the hornets as having “mandibles shaped like spiked shark fins” which is an undoubtedly scary image. However, the Asian Giant Hornet, native to Japan, eastern and southeastern parts of Asia, is the most deadly towards honeybees. The hornet lives a eusocial life, attacking beehives and wasp nests in swarms. During the attack, the hornets decapitate the prey of the chosen hive, transporting the slaughtered prey to their own hives to feed their young. The rate at which the hornets can attack honeybee hives is devastating, leading to a new adaptation in Japanese honeybees to fend the hornets off.
So yes, the Asian Giant Hornet is scary in that it’s the world’s largest hornet, but its lifestyle doesn’t often impose on our own. They’re partial to honeybees and their 3-phased attacks on hives. The fact that the hornets have invaded the Pacific Northwest, however, is concerning for another reason: American honeybees are not as well-suited to fend off attacks from the hornets as Japanese honeybees are.
What Does This Mean for Our Bees?
Amidst the hysteria caused by The New York Times feature, honeybees became a central concern, as they’re the hornet’s main target. Washington state, the site of the original sightings, has embarked on a hunt for the hornets, attempting to contain the
new species before they have the opportunity to wreak havoc on native honeybee populations. Scientists and agriculture experts from the state have prioritized the hunt for the hornet, noting that the sooner the hornet is contained, the better.
The rapidity of the hunt for the hornets is not only for the good of Washinton state but for the United States as a whole. Should the Asian Giant Hornet have the opportunity to spread throughout the state and the country, honeybee populations across the nation would be decimated. This would have irreversible damage on the pollination rate of American crops and flowers, permanently impacting the behavior and growth of American crops and honeybees. By containing the hornet while its numbers are still low, Washington state is protecting the future of American agriculture as we know it.
Despite the 1.5-to-2-inch size of the hornets, humans shouldn’t worry too much about the hornet impacting their own lives. Extreme caution should be used near the hornet, but it won’t be compelled to attack without provocation. On average, Asian Giant Hornets are recorded to kill 50 people a year in Japan. They’re a creature to be aware of, but not feared on a regular basis, especially because the hornet is still in a containment phase. If encountered, distance and avoidance are the best precautions to take, in addition to reporting the sighting.
It’s crucial that Americans in the impacted areas are aware of the presence of the hornet to help contain the spread. While the Asian Giant Hornet is scary and threatening to honeybee populations, it’s nothing more dangerous to humans than spiders or insects that already live in the United States. As with any other wild animal, caution and calm are the best antidotes to avoiding the sting of the so-called “Murder Hornet.”
Report any sightings of the Asian Giant Hornet here.