Murder Hornets Have Arrived in the U.S.

An invasive species of hornet has been seen in the United States for the first time. Should people be concerned?

For the first time, so-called “murder hornets” have come to North America. Prevalent in Asia as a parasitic and invasive insect species, murder hornets had never been seen in the U.S. until last December in the Pacific Northwest. It’s not clear how they got here. Now scientists have begun what The New York Times has described as a “a full-scale hunt for the hornets” to prevent them from spreading and creating massive ecological consequences.

Closeup macro of Japanese giant hornet faceKagenmi/Getty Images

What are Murder Hornets?

Murder hornets, also known as Japanese giant hornets, are a subspecies of the world’s largest hornet. Queen murder hornets can reach up to two inches long, and workers typically end up around 1-1/2 inches. While their size already makes them hard to miss, murder hornets also have distinctive yellow-orange heads, big black eyes, and black and yellow stripes along their abdomens.

The name stems from their hunting and eating habits, preying on bees, hornets and other medium-to-large insects. Only queen murder hornets have stingers, but all possess large mandibles to hunt their prey.

Are Murder Hornets Dangerous to Humans?

According to The New York Times, murder hornets kill up to 50 people a year in Japan. But for the most part the hornets avoid humans unless provoked, and murder hornet-related deaths are typically the result of repeated stings. As long as you are not allergic, a single sting from a queen murder hornet will hurt but shouldn’t be dangerous.

What Problems Do Murder Hornets Present?

At the moment murder hornets do not present a major problem in the U.S. The few reported sightings have been limited to the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia, with only stray sightings of individual insects on the American side of the border. But scientists are concerned what will happen if the insects establish colonies and spread across North America.

“This is our window to keep it from establishing,” said Chris Looney, an entomologist at the Washington State Department of Agriculture told The Times. “If we can’t do it in the next couple of years, it probably can’t be done.”

Unless checked, the predatory hunting of these hornets could mean disastrous consequences for other insect populations across the country. Honey bees, which have already seen large drop-offs in population over the last decade, are at an especially high risk.

What’s Being Done to Stop Murder Hornets?

Researchers and scientists are on it. Officials in Washington state are using thermal imaging to locate hives, since amount of activity inside produces high temperatures. They’ve also set up traps large enough to contain these hornets.