They look like something out of a sci-fi movie or horror flick. They literally have the word “murder” in their name. They pack one of the most painful and deadly stings on the planet. At roughly 2 inches, the Asian giant hornet, aka “murder hornet,” is currently the most talked about and feared bug on the planet—and now it’s in the United States.
You’ve probably heard tons about these terrifying insects already, seen dozens of stories in your social media feeds, local news reports, people at work won’t quit talking about it. But what’s the big deal? Why does it matter that this invasive species has found its way across the ocean and into our own backyards? Here’s the answer:
This somewhat dramatic fact is one of the main reasons for all the murder hornet commotion. Likened to searing hot metal driven into your skin, the sting of the Asian giant hornet is infamously excruciating and occasionally lethal. While deaths are rare, reports indicate these mammoth hornets kill roughly 50 people annually across Japan alone.
The truth is unless you live in Washington State (where the first U.S. “murder hornet” sightings have occurred), you almost certainly do not have to worry about getting stung. Even if you do and even if you were to get stung, it’s very unlikely you would suffer a life-threatening reaction. Our children, the elderly, and our pets are at the highest risk of experiencing a potentially fatal “murder hornet” encounter.
Environmental changes and broad, indiscriminate pesticide use have crippled our globe’s bee populations for decades to come (since 2012, beekeepers have reported annual hive losses from 29-45%). The last thing our pollinating friends need is another enemy—and then here comes the Asian giant hornet, ruthlessly efficient killer of bee colonies.
During the last weeks of summer and early fall, Asian giant hornets are known to work in groups to strike at the nests of other social insects, including vital honey bees. This so called “slaughter and occupation phase” sees the “murder hornets” living up to their name, often decapitating and dismembering an entire colony in just a few short hours. Apart from the devastating environmental effects, thriving murder hornet populations could have a massive impact on our country’s agricultural system, too, which depends largely on pollinators like honey bees. The financial toll of this impact could be severe, more on that next.
The USDA estimates about 35% of the world’s food crops rely directly on pollinators like honey bees to reproduce. Similarly, 1 out of every 3 bites of food in American is linked to honey bee pollination. In other words, if these “murder hornets” set up shop in the U.S., further debilitating local bee populations, it could potentially cost our country billions in economic hardship, to say nothing of the damage to residents’ personal lawns and gardens.
“People are afraid of the wrong thing. The scariest insects out there are mosquitoes. People don’t think twice about them. If anyone’s a murder insect, it would be a mosquito.”
The above words by University of Illinois entomologist May Berenbaum are something we should all take to heart. Bottom line: Mosquitoes are a much more serious and imminent threat to our families and pets than Asian giant hornets.
SOME FACTS TO CONSIDER:
- “Murder hornets” only sting when provoked. Mosquitoes require no such provocation and bite freely when they require a blood meal.
- Asian giant hornets kill at most 50-100 people across the globe annually. The World Health Organization estimates Mosquitoes are responsible for roughly millions of deaths each year, mostly by helping spread diseases like malaria, dengue fever, and rarer illnesses such as Eastern Equine Encephalitis.
- Lastly and perhaps most crucially, there are currently thousands of species of mosquitoes throughout the U.S., a population size whose individuals outnumber our own. Think about that: during mosquito season, there are more mosquitoes on the planet than humans, more than almost any other animal on the planet. Murder hornets, on the other hand, are limited to just a few known individuals in Washington State alone.