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What are Murder Hornets?

Murder Hornet

The world is filled with many species of insects. Most bugs are just a nuisance when they get inside your home. Some bugs, like termites and carpenter ants, can cause damage to your home, and others, like mosquitoes and ticks, can transmit diseases. Occasionally, there is a species that comes along that is potentially a new cause for concern. Murder hornets have generated a lot of attention recently. We’ve gathered information about them and the current situation.

Murder Hornet 101

Though they’ve been given the nickname murder hornet, these stinging insects are actually Asian giant hornets. These hornets are the largest species of hornets in the world. Queens can grow up to 2″ and have a wingspan of about 3″. Female workers and males are slightly smaller and grow between 1″ and 1.5″. Asian giant hornets belong to the wasp family and have an orange and black body with an orange head. They also have large, tear-shaped eyes. Like other hornets, their body is pointed at the end. Asian giant hornets are often confused with European hornets. To help tell them apart, you’ll want to look at their size and coloring. European hornets are smaller, around 1″, and have a yellow and brown body.

Murder Hornet Habits

Asian giant hornets are native to eastern and southeastern Asia. They prefer to live in forests and mountains at lower altitudes in colonies. These hornets get their nickname from their hunting habits. Murder hornets are notorious for killing honeybees. They attack them in two stages. First, they kill individual honeybees by decapitating them. Then, they attack entire colonies. A few hornets can wipe out large honeybee colonies in a small amount of time. Once their nest is empty, they inhabit it. While they will eat other insects, they prefer honeybees. Only one species of honeybee, the Japanese honeybee, has been able to defend itself. A colony of Japanese honeybees will cluster around a hornet and rapidly beat their wings. The heat this creates, combined with an increase in carbon dioxide, suffocates the hornet.  

Current Situation

These hornets have made headlines recently after being sighted in northwestern parts of the United States. The first reported murder hornet was in Washington. These hornets have also been sighted in southwestern Canada. Why is this a concern? The arrival of Asian giant hornets could have a devastating effect on the honeybee population. With their numbers already on the decline, a new threat could be detrimental. Honeybees aid in pollination which helps supply our fruits and vegetables. They also produce the honey that we consume. Another problem is that these hornets have a powerful venom. While one sting usually won’t harm a human, unless they are allergic to it, multiple stings can be deadly. Murder hornets are responsible for nearly 50 deaths a year in Japan.

While the arrival of these murder hornets is concerning, there is good news. The number of confirmed sightings is low. Only a few hornets have actually been reported in America. The main concern is keeping these numbers low. Researchers are working to stop the hornets before they establish themselves in America.

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