Asian giant hornet lookalikes concern some

Many memorable things happened in 2020: Australian bushfires, COVID-19 pandemic, teleworking, wearing masks, the race to create a vaccine, a presidential election, and … murder hornets.

Already fearful of catching an unseen virus, people began to fear for their lives from possibly being stung by a 2-inch hornet! Every large insect with wings was fearfully looked upon and the question was asked, “Is this a murder hornet?”

“Murder hornets” are also known as Asian giant hornets (Vespa mandarinia,) native to northern India through East Asia. In August 2019, the hornet was first reported in the Vancouver Island area and later detected in Washington state, and found again in May 2020.

Entomologists quickly began an eradication program to stop this species from spreading, and although they have been successful in stopping the spread of the hornet, they have been unable to stop the fear which rapidly spread across the nation. People feared the hornet was now in their state.

Anxious callers phoned their County Extension Agents with reports of the “killer hornets” in their backyards.

So why all the fuss? Do they attack humans?

The Asian giant hornet usually does not attack humans unless they feel threatened. They will sting to defend their nest or defend a beehive they are attacking. Their stinger is formidable, being much longer than any of our native bees or wasps in the United States and can easily pierce through the protective clothing of a beekeeper. The hornet’s venom is also more toxic. And like other wasps and hornets, they can sting multiple times, unlike a honeybee which has a barbed stinger they leave behind after stinging a victim. For people with an allergic reaction to bee stings, a sting from this hornet could cripple or kill.

Mass hornet attacks are very rare. About 50 people die in Japan every year due to Asian giant hornet stings. In comparison, a total of 89 people in the United States died in 2017 due to a bee, wasp or hornet sting.