Murder Hornets

A guide to the insects and their impact on Washington State.

Murder Hornets

Annabelle Akiyama, Writer

Asian giant hornets, otherwise known as murder hornets, have been making the headlines recently, thanks to an invasion in the state of Washington. The dramatically nicknamed insects have made a nest in Blaine, Washington, which was recently eradicated. So, what should you know about murder hornets? Read on to find out more about the invasive insects.

 

Overview:

Asian giant hornets (Vespa mandarinia), are the world’s largest species of hornet. Measuring from 1½ to 2 inches, they have a wingspan of about 3 inches, and a stinger measuring about ¼ inches. They have large orange-yellow heads containing large eyes, sharp mandibles, antennae, and black and orange stripes on their body. 

The hornets typically make their nests underground, digging and occupying tunnels dug by other animals, or gaps made by tree roots. They feed on a number of other insects, but are most known for their attacks on honeybees. Murder hornets are found in Asia, and are not native to the US.

Here’s a link to the Washington Department of Agriculture’s page on murder hornets! It includes pictures of murder hornets: https://agr.wa.gov/hornets

 

Can Murder Hornets Hurt You?:

The sting of an Asian giant hornet can be very painful, since it contains neurotoxins. Luckily, unless you are allergic or sensitive to the sting, it would take many stings to make your situation life threatening. With a ¼ inch-long stinger, the murder hornet’s sting can puncture a beekeeper’s suit. Murder hornets usually only attack humans when they feel their nest is threatened. The hornets usually attack in large groups, and can inflict a good number of stings with this method. If a person gets too many stings they may suffer from organ failure.

 

Murder Hornets in Washington State:

On October 24, 2020, entomologists from the Washington State Department of Agriculture started to eradicate a murder hornet nest found in a tree in Blaine, Washington. This was the first murder hornet nest ever found in the US. Researchers found 200 total murder hornet queens in the nest- they’d initially found 2 queens when vacuuming the nest, but discovered 76 more queens when opening up the nest. The scientists also think that 108 cells containing pupae are queens. Inside the nest, there were 766 cells and 6 combs, which hold developing hornets. Altogether, the scientists captured more than 500 murder hornets.

The Washington State Department of Agriculture believes that there could be more murder hornet nests in the region, and will continue to set traps for the insects for three years.

 

How Murder Hornets Could Impact Washington State:

Like any invasive species, murder hornets can have negative impacts on our environment. Assuming that they manage to get a foothold in Washington State, the hornets could greatly impact our food chain by attacking our honeybee population.

Asian giant hornets are known for their attacks on Asian honeybees, in which they decimate the honeybee’s entire hive. In their attacks, called the slaughter and occupation phase, the hornets swarm the honeybee hive, decapitating the honeybees. With this method, the hornets can annihilate a hive in a matter of hours. The hornets then claim the hive as their own, and feed the immature honeybees to their young. However, the Asian honeybees have a defense mechanism- they can swarm and overheat the hornets by piling onto the insect and beating their wings. US honeybees do not have this defense.

If the hornets manage to get a hold in Washington State, we could face disastrous consequences. We depend on bees to pollinate our crops, and our honeybee populations have already been threatened by mites, disease, and pesticides. If we don’t have pollinators such as honeybees, our crops can’t grow.

 

What You Should Do If You See A Murder Hornet:

There is a small chance that you could come across a murder hornet- according to the Washington State Department of Agriculture, here’s what you should do if you spot one, or see an attacked hive.

Report the sighting. You can record the sighting using this Hornet Watch Report Form, email [email protected], or call 1-800-443-6684. (However, according to the article, the hotline is backed up. They encourage you to call only if you aren’t able to email, since you’ll get a faster response.) 

 

Here’s what they want you to include (if possible):

  • Your name and contact information
  • The location of your sighting
  • The date of your sighting
  • A photograph of the hornet or attacked hive damage (they usually can’t confirm a report without a photo or specimen)
  • If you don’t have a photo, provide a description of the insect’s size, the color of it’s head and body, and what it was doing
  • If you don’t have a photo, provide a description of the hive loss/damage
  • The direction the hornet flew away in

Note: If the sighting wasn’t in Washington State, they recommend you submit your report to your state/province’s department of agriculture.