Murder Hornets Must be Stopped
The Asian giant hornet or “murder hornet” is a massive wasp known for its extreme size and potent sting. The wasp’s body can grow up to two inches in length and it has a long stinger that can penetrate a beekeeping suit.
Murder hornets likes to attack in groups, exposing human victims to lethal amounts of venom.
“It was like having red-hot thumbtacks being driven into my flesh,” says Conrad Berube, a Canadian beekeeper who attempted to exterminate a nest of murder hornets on Vancouver Island last year.
Murder hornets are not the same species as killer bees - a nickname for the African honeybee famous for invading Texas in 1990.
Murder hornets are native Japan, where they are responsible for up to 50 deaths per year. They were spotted for the first time in the US last fall in Washington State. Days later, a nearly apiarist discovered thousands of his bees lying dead on the ground with no heads.
This is the trademark killing method of the Asian giant hornet.
With their sharp mandibles, a group of murder hornets can kill an entire colony of honeybees in a matter of hours - slicing off their heads and flying away with the bodies to feed their queens and young.
A single Asian giant hornet can kill 40 smaller bees per minute.
Forced to coexist with murder hornets, honeybees in Japan have devised a clever way to kill the wasp: they form a tight ball around the intruder and beat their wings until the local temperature reaches 115° F and the wasp suffocates.
American honeybees have no known defense against the murder hornet and their small stings seem to have no effect on the larger predator.
“Americans do not fully understand the aggressiveness and toxicity of this hornet,” warns Jun-ichi Takahashi, a wasp expert at Kyoto Sangyo University in Japan.
Researchers still haven’t figured out how the wasps reached the United States; perhaps they were accidentally trapped in shipping containers from Japan or East Asia.
Either way, the sightings in Washington State have prompted a large-scale hunt for murder wasps in the US, with researchers desperately trying to prevent the pests from establishing a population.
Not only are murder hornets dangerous and terrifying, but they pose a real threat to the bees on which we depend for honey and food production. And bee populations are already declining thanks for deforestation, climate change, and other factors.
“This is our window to keep it from establishing,” says Washington State entomologist Chris Looney. “If we can’t do it in the next couple of years, it probably can’t be done.”
The task is daunting. Murder hornets build their nests underground and Washington’s humid forests are the perfect environment.
Queen murder hornets emerge from hibernation in the spring to search for a place to nest. Queens can fly several miles in a day at speeds up to 20 miles per hour.
In the coming months, Looney and a team of volunteers will place hundreds of handmade traps in an attempt to trap and kill the queens before they establish nests. The trackers are also considering thermal imaging as a way to locate underground nests and various tagging methods to track the movement of individual bees back to their colonies.