Lately, there has been much discussion about the Giant Hornet, Vespa mandarinia, also being referred to as the “Murder Hornet.” This aggressive insect is the world’s largest hornet and can be almost two inches long with a large and venomous stinger. The venom is potent enough to where in the insect’s native range there have been cases of human death due to multiple stings. These fifty or so deaths per year are caused by anaphylactic shock or cardiac arrest. However, in most cases, a single sting cannot inject a lethal dose. Nevertheless, similar to a bee or wasp sting, the sting from the giant hornet can be extremely painful.
Besides the very large size of this hornet, it can be identified by its characteristic orange head, brown antennae, and tiger-like orange and black stripes. Although this hornet is native to Asia and has been found in parts of Russia, this bug has for the first time, recently invaded the Pacific Northwest and North America, specifically Washington.
Scientists are not quite sure how the hornets invaded from their native area, possibly in international cargo, but scientists are doing their best to eradicate the invasive hornet as soon as possible. Although only a handful of reports have been verified thus far, locating all of the populations early is critical to prevent establishment, especially because the hornet is most active in the summer and fall.
These insects can live in the lowland forested areas, and their nests are subterranean. These hornets predominantly nest in their tunnels, the burrows of other animals or rodents, or within the roots of rotted pine. These hornets are extreme predators against other insects and bees, hence the given name “Murder Hornet.”
These hornets namely kill and feed off larger insects, including the colonies of honeybees. They invade the honeybee hive, kill the adults by sting or decapitation, and use the adults, pupae, and larvae to feed the young of their own. According to beekeepers, a group of these “Murder Hornets” can devastate an entire colony of the European honeybee, as each hornet can kill tens of bees per minute. The European honeybees, the type of bee responsible for the majority of honey and crop production, are virtually defenseless against the hornet. The defense of the European honeybee is unorganized and their individualized stings are no match for the larger and armored hornet. However, some other species of social bees native to the area these hornets can be found, have been observed to display an intricate and effective behavioral defense mechanism against the hornet. These bees can detect when a hornet is near and emit a pheromone to prepare the colony. When the hornet attempts to come within the hive, hundreds of bees simultaneously surround the hornet, preventing it from escaping. The bees then vibrate in unison creating an “oven,” elevating the temperature and carbon dioxide to a level that is lethal to the hornet, but not to the majority of the bees.
Scientists in the Northwest United States are currently doing their best to locate any populations of this invasive insect by trapping and monitoring them in order to eradicate their presence immediately before the hornet potentially establishes in the area. Although, thankfully, these hornets are not located in South Florida, residents and beekeepers are being asked to please report any sightings of these hornets to the Department of Agriculture for the State of Washington.