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Murder hornets not taking over, USDA says

Check murder hornets off your list of things to worry about.

Just when it seemed like 2020 couldn’t get any scarier, headlines about “murder hornets” began showing up in the news. Once those stories hit social media, they took off and were quickly shared, prompting concern about humans being killed by the venom of the world’s largest species of hornet, and of their impact on native species, namely honeybees. 

According to USDA, however, there is no cause for alarm. Today on Twitter, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), retweeted an article from Business Insider that says, “USDA agrees there is no evidence to suggest the Asian giant hornet has invaded the United States.”

Three Asian giant hornets were identified on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, in August of 2019, but wildlife officials were able to find and destroy the large colony and its nest. That same month, a beekeeper found the hornets near Bellingham, Washington, near the Canadian border. They were located in British Columbia again in September and October, and in Bellingham in October. In December, the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) verified an additional report in nearby Blaine, Washington.

In order to prevent the Asian giant hornet from becoming established in Washington and other parts of the U.S., WSDA and USDA are conducting surveys and attempting to trap hornets and locate nests.

About Asian giant hornets

According to Penn State University Extension, a group of 20 to 30 of these hornets can kill up to 25,000 honeybees in a few hours. They attack the bees in their nest then revisit the nest for days until they have eaten the entire colony. The hornets, which have a distinctive yellow head, nest in the ground in wooded areas. The east Asian native is typically dormant in the winter.

The nickname “murder hornets” has the general public worried they will instantly die if stung by the insect, but that’s not the case. The insects aren’t inherently aggresive toward humans but can be defensive if their nest or food source is threatened. 

Penn State Extension reports that while 30 to 50 people are killed each year from sting-induced allergic reactions or rare organ failure due to multiple stings of the Asian giant hornet, for perspective, an average of 62 Americans are killed each year by bees and wasps for the same reasons.


Photo: Washington State Department of Agriculture

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