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Murder Hornets: Should We Be Afraid?

Updated: May 15, 2020

As if the Coronavirus isn’t worrisome enough, we now have a new concern: The Asian  giant hornet, or ‘murder hornet.’ These insects can use their spiked jaw to decapitate bees and they can wipe out an entire honey bee hive in just a few hours. These hornets normally kill about 50 people every year in Japan. Now they have arrived in the U.S. for the first time.

They have a distinct look, with a large yellowish head, long eyes, and black and orange stripes that circle their bodies. Hence their name, these giant hornets can grow up to two inches long. All females can sting, but they only attack humans when they feel threatened.

In November 2019, a single giant hornet was spotted on Vancouver Island. After crews tracked down the hive, local beekeeper Conrad Berube was assigned to kill the hornets. He left after dark, layering thick sweatpants over shorts and his bee suit over them both. He covered his wrists and ankles in Kevlar, a strong synthetic fabric. But as he approached the hive, he seemed to wake the colony. Before he could act, he felt the hornets stabbing into his legs -- through the multiple layers of clothing. “It was like having red-hot thumbtacks being driven into my flesh,” Berube said. 

They do sound scary. They’re two inches long, their stings can pierce through clothing and bee suits, and now they’re in the U.S. But should we be worried? These hornets thrive in mountainous regions, but they rarely appear in large cities. They can’t withstand very hot or very cold temperatures, so they are more likely to settle in areas with more temperate climates. These living conditions already rule out much of the U.S. Only two Asian giant hornets have been spotted in America, both in Washington state. According to National Geographic, “In the summer, the researchers will set out hundreds of traps to continue looking for queens and workers, which would emerge in the summer if any new colonies are established.”

All in all, right now in California, we shouldn’t be too concerned about the Asian giant hornet. After these traps are set up, however, we will know a lot more. If researchers find new colonies, we might have to be more alert and begin taking precautions against these vicious new invaders. 

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