Written By: Elissar Zabaneh
In the past several days, photographs and videos have surfaced the internet, showing how viciously the insect has attacked honeybees. Government agencies and local barkeepers have sprung into action, hoping to eradicate the hornet before it can consolidate a foothold in the continent.
The Asian giant hornet is a large insect with a potent sting. The queens can grow up to two inches long, and their quarter-inch stingers can pierce standard beekeeping attire. The Smithsonian says that the hornets are voracious predators, capable of massacring entire honey bee hives in just a matter of hours, decapitating thousands of the hive's adult bees.
As the name suggests, the hornets are native to Asia, but towards the end of 2019, they were reported to be seen in North America for the first time.
The four confirmed sightings of the Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia) in the United States, along with two more in Canada, occurred between September and December 2019. The sightings in the U.S. were all individual hornets, but in September a nest was found and destroyed on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
The Times' coverage was widely shared, causing many in the United States to add "invasion of the world's largest hornet" to their list of concerns for 2020. But this raises the question: Are these so-called "murder hornets," as some researchers call them, really killers?
Floyd Shockley, the entomology collections manager at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, says "You shouldn't worry about it." He adds that more people die of honey bee stings in the U.S. than die annually, from these hornets. His statistics show that in the U.S., about 60-80 people die from allergic reactions to honey bee stings; only about 40 people die annually in Asia, mostly in Japan, from reactions to the giant hornet stings.