Murder Hornets: Just When You Thought It Couldn’t Get Worse

By: Atara Neugroschl  |  May 12, 2020
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By Atara Neugroschl, Staff Writer

Amidst a global pandemic and a major economic recession, it seems that 2020 could not get any crazier. This idea, however, has been quickly shattered after the recent announcement that murder hornets have come to North America. The two-inch hornets, native to East Asia, are recognized by their yellow-orange heads, large black eyes, and black and yellow striped bodies. Although the hornet, officially named Vespa mandarinia, had previously been living exclusively in East Asia, in December of 2019, a sighting of the infamous killer was confirmed in Washington State. While entomologists are unsure as to how the hornet arrived in North America, there have been another two confirmed sightings in Canada, as well as multiple suspected findings.

Despite entomologists’ claims that the feared murder hornets are no more murderous than other bees, the insects have been known to deliver a painful sting. Unlike the stingers of hornets native to the States, murder hornets have a longer stinger filled with neurotoxins, a poisonous substance that attacks the nervous system. These stingers can pierce through beekeepers’ protective gear, releasing its toxins into the person, causing an immediate sharp pain. While one sting can be incredibly painful and cause flu-like symptoms, the danger is in being stung by multiple hornets at once, which can be equated to the toxic venom of a poisonous snake. In fact, the insects are infamous for killing up to fifty people annually in Japan. However, the hornets do not typically attack humans. Rather, the real fear of entomologists is the murder hornet’s effects on the honeybee population.

Throughout the past years, the honeybee population worldwide has been rapidly decreasing. In the winter of 2019 alone, the United States honeybee population decreased by 40% and entomologists fear the total extinction of the critical insects. This fear has only heightened with the introduction of murder hornets, which have been known to attack and eat honeybees. Throughout the summer and fall, murder hornets search for honeybee hives. Upon finding a hive, they decapitate the adults, biting off the heads using their mandibles. They then feed on the honeybees’ bodies, as well as the larvae and pupae. In 90 minutes, a handful of murder hornets can completely decimate a honeybee hive. Japanese honeybees, which have evolved in the same environments as murder hornets, have developed a defense for these gruesome killings. When being attacked by a murder hornet, Japanese honeybees surround the offender, flapping their wings simultaneously. This repetitive flapping motion increases the temperature around the hornet to 115° F, effectively killing the murder hornet from heat and carbon dioxide. However, American honeybees, which have only now been introduced to the murder hornet, have no method of defense. Therefore, entomologists believe that if the murder hornets are not found and eliminated within the next few years, they will spread throughout the country and completely decimate the United States honeybee population. 

For this reason, scientists are working to eliminate the insects. Although the hornets are currently in hibernation, traps have already been put in place that will attract murder hornets and attach geo-trackers to them. These trackers will allow scientists to locate the underground nests and eliminate the group of hornets. Additionally, scientists plan on using thermal tracking technology to locate the nests. Because of the constant buzzing within the hornet’s nests, temperatures can rise to 86°F. This intense heat can be detected using heat sensors, which would lead scientists to the murder hornets’ nests. With a combination of these two methods of detection, scientists hope to find and eliminate the murder hornets before they claim any more bee or human lives.

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Sources: 

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/murder-hornets-united-states-honeybee-population-vespa-mandarinia/

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/02/us/asian-giant-hornet-washington.html

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2020/05/asian-giant-hornets-arrive-united-states/#close

https://abcnews.go.com/US/40-decline-honey-bee-population-winter-unsustainable-experts/story?id=64191609

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