COVID-19 Day 55: Murder Hornets are the New Threat (Until we find a better one)


As COVID-19 fears begin to wain and people experience information fatigue, no group is more concerned than the news media. With a downward trend in embarrassing gaffs by President Trump, click-bait Ad revenues are down. Until an alarming second-waive of infections can be announced, reporters have turned to twitter for trending hashtags. Enter ‘Murder Hornets’.

Murder Hornets is the sensational, more panic-inducing, name for the Asian Giant Hornet (Vepsa Mandarina). These ground-nesting insects are the world’s largest hornet, native to many parts of Eastern Asia. Up until now, I largely knew about them from nature documentaries and the anime series, “InuYasha,” where I thought their exaggerated size was a fanciful depiction, until I saw a photo of real ones in a person’s hand.

Nightmare fuel. Nope. Nope. Nope.

Their gigantic size is certainly no joke, providing nightmare fuel to anyone but the most jaded entomologist. They were spotted in Washington State in December 2019, which is attempting an eradication campaign. It’s possible a queen or small hive may have stowed away in a cargo container. The first confirmed sightings were near the busy port cities of Vancouver and Seattle. It’s also possible they escaped from captivity, as gigantic insects are prized by exotic insect breeders/collectors.

Their stingers are big enough to pierce beekeeper’s protective suits and their venom (like other wasps and bees) can cause lethal allergic reactions in people. Last year they killed as many as 50 people in Japan. They made worldwide headlines a few years ago when hornet attacks injured hundreds and killed 28 in China.

But it took the COVID-19 homebound this Spring to make bring them back to the attention to the mainstream press. Even the New York Times has reported on these insects, which I’d like to point out, were spotted slightly more times than Big Foot. Lest I later be accused of downplaying this threat (like some politicians regarding COVID-19) here are some reasons why murder hornets should, and should not be alarming.

Murder hornets stories trending in the media

There have only been 2 confirmed sightings of and 2 additional unconfirmed sightings in the US near the Canadian border. The only confirmed nest was found and destroyed by authorities on Vancouver Island, near the later US sightings. While hornet populations spread exponentially, unlike a virus, there is almost no reasonable way for nests of murder hornets to hitch a ride with airline passengers and establish themselves around the country. If they could we’d all be doomed.

But there is reason for concern nationally. If murder hornets do establish themselves in this country, they could decimate populations of wild and domesticated honey bees. Giant hornets attack beehives to capture honeybees and bee-larvae for food. Hornets methodically approach hives and kill bees one-by-one as they emerge to defend the hive. With their giant pincers, a single hornet can kill up to 40 bees a minute and a group of giant hornets can destroy an entire hive in hours.

Domestic honey production could be threatened but more importantly honeybees are vital for the pollination of our food crops. But even this threat could be addressed by the importation and cultivation of Asian honeybees. Asian honeybees have evolved with the giant hornets and have developed a unique defense. When attacked by hornets, instead of attempting to sting them, they swarm each hornet, cling to them, and enveloping them. The bees shiver their wing muscles and literally cook the hornets with their combined body heat. Drastic but effective.

So why are Giant Asian Hornets trending now? Sure ‘murder hornets’ are a cool name and they are scary looking. The cynical among us may find it suspicious that the mainstream news brings up a threat that would drive people indoors, just at the time people are agitating to end coronavirus lockdowns. Or perhaps this zeitgeist is our existential fears of a microscopic ‘bug’, projected onto a conspicuously large one? Or maybe, like myself, people find their name and reporting to be darkly humours in morbid times?

Whatever the reason, with this ‘threat’ we can flatten the curve with a sturdy boot. Or better yet with fire. Don’t worry, next year, we’ll probably be seeing The Murder Hornets playing at Coachella.


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