Honey bees face new potential threat; Murder hornets spotted in United States


Honey Bees carrying pollen back to their hive. Photo by Kai Wenzel on Unsplash

Paige Webster, Reporter

 The year of 2020 has brought several difficult challenges to both the United States and the world that has tested the integrity of communities and countries alike. Amongst the growing changes of environments, hurricanes, and wide-spread fires comes a new uninvited guest from the East known as the murder hornet.

     As stated by Karim Vahed, a professor of Entomology at the university of Derby, the term “murder hornet” is a media given name and are known in the scientific world as the Asian Giant Hornet. Most Giant hornets measure to about two inches in body length and about three inches in wingspan. The Japanese giant hornet is referred to as the “great sparrow bird” as it resembles a small bird while flying past.

     The Seattle Times newspaper reports that the first 2020 sighting of the ‘Murder hornet’ was near Birch Bay, Washington state on or before July 14 close to the Canadian border based on the report from Entomologists of the state Department of Agriculture. Sven Spichiger, managing entomologist for the department, stated that “This is encouraging because it means we know that the traps work…But it also means we have work to do.” Officials say that it is impossible for the hornet to have flown all the way across the ocean and most likely arrived in Washington via a cargo ship.

     Murder hornets get their nickname due to their aggressive way that they attack honeybee swarms. According to many reports and research on the attack habits, when a murder hornet encounters a swarm the hornet will sting and decapitate all the worker bees and gradually make its way inward of the nest and eventually kill the queen. Once the bees are taken care of the hornet eats the larvae.

     Asian honeybees through many years of evolution have worked out a defense against the Giant hornets called a bee ball. “They will surround a single hornet, beat their wings as fast as they can, and raise that hornet’s body temperature to the point where, essentially, they cook it” says Coyote Peterson, famous wildlife educator. European honeybees, however, have no way to protect against Giant hornets. If Murder hornets did become a constant presence, beekeepers will have to be very vigilant.

     There are about 2.5 million colonies of bees in the U.S, according to the extension service at Penn State. A small portion of said bees belong to Megan Thomas, a senior student who cares for her own beehive, stated that “Right now, the queen should start laying less…so I am feeding them a 2:1 sugar water ratio to ensure that they are strong going into winter.” Another senior, Lina Goetz, keeps a similar routine with her beehive, making sure to “…go through the boxes every couple weeks to make sure that their queen is laying eggs.”

     As of October 3, 2020, six new sightings of these murder hornets have prompted the urgent search for a possible nest. At least 15 hornets have been found in the state of Northern Washington over the last year, according to the state Department of Agriculture’s Asian giant hornet dashboard. Recent studies vaguely suggest that these hornets may thrive and become more active in the early winter months, encouraging entomologists to quicken their search.

     Both Thomas and Goetz said that they are not concerned with the murder hornet presence in the United States as it is relatively staying isolated in Washington state, however Thomas shared her plans of defense should they reach the east coast. “I would use what’s called a mouse guard…a metal entrance reducer [that] has small holes only a honeybee can enter into.

       According to Coyote Peterson, the Youtuber famous for withstanding multiple animal and insect stings, ranks the Asian giant hornet sting to be the second most painful sting in the world, second only to the Execution wasp. These giant hornets are reported to be responsible for an estimated 30 to 50 deaths per year in Japan, however experts and records say that death usually occurs as a secondary allergic reaction to the venom and not by the sting itself. Entomologists say the odds of being swarmed or stung by a single or group of giant hornets is virtually impossible.

     Like most hornet and wasp species, Giant hornets will not sting unless provoked stated Coyote Peterson. If by some chance a person encounters a Giant hornet or nest, it is highly suggested that you do not provoke it by either trying to capture or kill it.

      If possible, entomologists encourage that the most that should be done is to get a photo from a safe distance that is clear enough to be identifiable. Take the photo and information of where it was found and report it to the local Fish and Wildlife department for advisory.