by Hannah Rutherford
Over the last couple of days, Coronavirus restrictions have been beginning to ease all around the United States. However, as if transitioning from one crisis to another, an entirely different problem has arisen, beginning in Washington state.
A few months ago, in December of 2019, the Asian Giant Hornet, which was previously only native to Asia, was sighted in Blaine, a small town nestled near the Canadian border. Local entomologists dismissed the claim as a misidentification of the species, and the case remained under the radar for several months after its initial appearance. Nevertheless, various peculiar incidents could only have been traced back to the emergence of these “murder hornets”; beekeepers all around the state were shocked to find piles of headless honeybees, and many households became the unwilling home of the hive of these wasps.
The Asian Giant Hornet is the largest species of hornet in the world and can grow up to two inches in length, which is nearly four times as large as the Common Western Honeybee. These hornets are highly territorial and are very aggressive when provoked, and the real danger is in their razor-sharp stingers; although barely visible, these 6-millimeter weapons are packed with potent neurotoxins and can deliver seven times the amount of venom as a honeybee. The overpowering poison attacks the nervous system and destroys the tissue of its victims. Furthermore, these insects often travel in groups, and each hornet can deliver multiple powerful stings.
Even if an individual is not allergic, multiple stings from this lethal wasp can result in excruciating pain and even death; they’re responsible for as many as 50 deaths in Japan annually, where this particular species is the most common, and injured over 1,600 people worldwide in 2013. Youtuber Coyote Peterson subjected himself to a hornet sting and described it as an “absolute, searing, pain,” and many witnesses have expressed similar sentiments.
Although they do occasionally attack humans and other household pets, their most common prey is the honeybee. A faction of merely a few dozen hornets can take down a hive containing tens of thousands of bees, and after decimating the workforce of the colony, the “murder hornets” devour the pupae and larvae, and proceed to regurgitate their meal into the mouths of their young ones. These massive attacks on honeybee colonies begin with an alleged “slaughter phase,” in which the hornets use their large mandibles to bite off the heads of opposing honeybees. The introduction of these hornets into the United States could potentially be devastating to the European honeybee population, which has been steadily declining for years due to habitat loss and pesticides.
These Asian Giant Hornets begin hunting in April, which explains why the number of hornet sightings skyrocketed in the past few weeks, and are the most aggressive and active in late summer and even into the early fall, until they settle into hibernation in the winter.
Experts suspect that the Asian Giant Hornets were transported to the United States through international cargo, but are not certain. Chris Looney, an entomologist at the Washington State Department of Agriculture, says “…It’s likely they got accidentally trapped in shipping containers from one of the countries where they’re native.”
Officials recommend backing away if an Asian Giant Hornet is sighted, and stress the importance of contacting your local administration instead of attempting to catch the insect on your own. Even if you own a special beekeeping suit, their serrated stingers can easily pierce through most fabrics, and extermination facilities have purchased custom-made suits to combat these hornets.
Washington state executives are currently doing everything in their power to prevent additional damage from the Asian Giant Hornet.
- ‘Murder hornets’ have arrived in the U.S.—here’s what you should know –
- Everything you need to know about ‘murder hornets’ – https://mashable.com/article/murder-hornets/
- “Murder hornets” have now entered the U.S. — and they could decimate the honeybee population – https://www.cbsnews.com/news/murder-hornets-united-states-honeybee-populatiopn/
- Invasive giant hornets have been spotted in the US for the first time – https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/03/us/washington-giant-murder-hornets/index.html