What Is a Murder Hornet and How Did It Get This Nickname?
Murder hornet stingers are a quarter of an inch long and certainly do hurt. They can even pierce through beekeeping gear! Unlike honeybees, they’re also able to sting more than once. Still, most experts agree that most people have little to fear from murder hornets. That’s why they prefer to call them “Asian giant hornets.” It’s violent attacks against honeybees in particular has earned it the nickname.
Growing as large as two inches, they’re the largest hornets in the world. In addition to a large stinger, these insects can also bite their victims.These insects don’t attack people unless they feel threatened. Those on the receiving end of their stings still say it’s very painful. But the hornets are only a serious danger to people who are allergic to them.
The scientific name for Asian giant hornets is Vespa mandarinia. It’s common to see these insects in Asia. There, they live as far north as Russia and as far south as Thailand. They are not native to North America. However, sightings of Asian giant hornets there began in late 2019. The Asian giant hornet is often confused with the yellow-legged hornet (Vespa velutina), also known as the Asian hornet, an invasive species of major concern across Europe, including the UK.
Normally, Asian giant hornets hunt alone. That changes when one comes across a beehive. They release a pheromone that attracts other murder hornets to the spot. Together, they’ll wage war against the hive. They behead bees with their mandibles. Then, they carry larvae back to their own nests for a feast.
Across Asia, bee species have learned to fight off the Asian giant hornet. When they notice the hornet’s pheromone, female worker bees prepare a counterattack. If a hornet enters the hive, the bees will swarm. They surround the hornet and beat their wings. This heats the hive and makes carbon dioxide, which eventually kills the invader.
North American bees, however, have never come across murder hornets. They don’t know how to defend themselves. This has many people worried. The honeybee population has already declined in recent years. Some fear that the Asian giant hornet could cause further harm.
In the past several days photographs and videos have surfaced showing how viciously this insect has attacked honeybees elsewhere in the world. U.S. government agencies and local beekeepers have sprung into action, hoping to eradicate the hornet—thus far seen just in Washington State and nearby Vancouver Island—before it can consolidate a foothold in the continent. Success may lie in how predator and prey interact naturally.