Murder hornets add to 2020 chaos


Via Wikimedia Commons

Asian Giant Hornets arrived to the West Coast from Japan.

Kate Shanahan, Staff Writer

Just as it seemed the situation at hand could not get any worse, ‘murder hornets’ arrived to the US. The first four months of 2020, the world has survived massive wildfires in Australia and begun to get a handle on the coronavirus pandemic. Simultaneously, the news has brought the killing of an Iranian general by the US followed by Iran’s retaliation, the impeachment of President Trump, a worldwide economic crisis, Britain’s break from the European Union, and the relentless 2020 presidential campaign. Now, we have murderous hornets landing in the western US. 

The massive Asian insect, measuring about two inches, is beginning to emerge from winter hibernation. These particular hornets have an appetite for honey bees, but pack a sting that can be fatal to humans. An Asian giant hornet has been spotted in Washington State and scientists are racing time as they try to track it down after the hornet single handedly decimated an entire honey bee colony. 

Honey bees are important to the environment because they pollinate plants. As pollinators, honey bees support the growth of trees, flowers, and other plants coupled with contributing to complicated, interconnected ecosystems. About one-third of food humans consume depends on the pollination of bees, making them a vital player in our ecosystem. 

This hornet can sting through a majority of beekeeper suits, deliver approximately seven times the amount of venom as a honey bee, and sting multiple times. These powerful stings release a neurotoxin, or a poison that acts on the nervous system, meaning multiple stings can kill humans. The Department of Agriculture has already ordered special reinforced beekeeper suits from China to help protect beekeepers. 

Only the females of the species have stingers which can measure up to 6 millimeters. The pain from the sting is grave compared to a “hot nail through my leg,” Masato Ono, an entomologist at Tamagawa University in Japan, said to National Geographic back in 2002. 

Asian giant hornets typically live in the forests and low mountains of eastern and southeast Asia. It’s primary food source is large insects such as wasps and bees. Their life cycle begins in April and they are most dangerous in late summer and early fall months.

While dangerous to humans, honey bees have the most to fear as murder hornets are the only known wasp species to coordinate attacks against bee colonies. Their deadly attacks are carried out with shocking precision meaning a healthy bee colony of 30,000-50,000 bees can be slaughtered within a few hours by just 15 to 30 hornets. 

If hornets are able to establish themselves in the United States, their impact on native bee populations would be “severe enough to cause significant disruptions,” Washington State University associate professor Timothy Lawrence said. 

While the first four months of 2020 have resembled a dystopian movie, felt like a marathon, and have seemed to last a lifetime already, there is still much more 2020 to go.