"Murder Hornets" Invade Washington State
By: Noemi Elliott
In late 2019, two atypically-marked orange and black hornets nearly two inches in length were spotted near Blaire, Washington. Asian Giant Hornet, alternatively vespa mandarinia, is the world’s largest hornet, native to East Asia, South Asia, and Mainland Southeast Asia.
Nicknamed the “murder hornet” for its tendency of brutally capturing honeybees and feeding them to young hornets, the predator can kill up to 40 bees per minute. Should the insect continue travelling throughout Washington state, officials fear their predatory nature will be detrimental toward bee populations.
“At this time, Washington State Department of Agriculture has implemented an aggressive outreach and trapping campaign,” said Rian Wojahn, the eradication coordinator for the WSDA. “Local beekeepers and other agencies are also helping get information out and using our trapping protocols to deploy traps.”
With respect to their eating habits, hornets are less active during the winter and spring but enter their most destructive phase in late summer. In the fall, hornets start facing the demands of raising the next generation of queens– thus, branching their diet out to include other species of hornets and yellow jackets.
The giant hornets “slaughter the adults, then carry back the brood as food for their larvae,” said American Museum of Natural History in New York City hornet specialist James Carpenter. “Besides the impact on honeybees, then, they might have an impact on native yellow jackets.”
The predators pose a threat to both honeybees and humans alike. With toxic venom in their stingers, the insect kills approximately 30-50 humans each year in Japan. A single sting is equivalent to three to ten simultaneous yellow jacket stings.
“I worry people are already scared enough of insects for dubious reasons,” said Chris Looney, an entomologist at the Washington State Department of Agriculture. On the other hand, Looney acknowledged the benefit of the ominous nickname, “it does seem to have gotten people’s attention. I just hope the sensational ‘murder hornet’ coverage helps us understand our ecosystems a little better.”
Looking forward, Paul van Westendorp, principal beekeeping specialist from British Columbia, noted that day to day life would remain the same, despite the invasion of Asian Giant Hornets.
“Apex predators are maybe very fierce in what they can do, but there are only a few of them around,” said van Westendorp. He added, “on a beautiful, hot summer day, one will normally have no hesitation to go for a nice swim in the ocean — even if we recognize that there are orcas out there.”