Murder and Mayhem: Are “Murder Hornets” Really on the Loose? (Answer: Nope)

There’s been a lot of hysteria around what people are calling “murder hornets”, but let’s take a look at the facts to erase that fear and learn a bit about science in the process. First of all the name “murder hornet” creates a lot of needless fear – that’s not what these hornets are called – the most commonly accepted name Asian giant hornet.

It is true that Asian giant hornets exist and there have been confirmed (dead) specimens in the United States. While what you’ve heard or read about their biology and behavior may be true, please take into consideration that we are unlikely to ever be exposed to this hornet here in Nebraska. Regardless of how painful the sting and how toxic their venom, with zero exposure, there is no risk of harm.

Below are the following reasons we should not worry about the Asian giant hornet in Nebraska (and most places in the US):

1) We are humans and they prey on other insects like honey bees. Honey bees in Asia have developed an interesting way to defend themselves by using heat to form a “defensive ball” around their predator. This is not a defensive strategy of the European honey bee, which are the bees domesticated here in the US that we value so much. Although Asian giant hornets feed aggressively on honey bees, they do not exhibit hostile behavior towards humans.

2) At this time there are NO known established populations in the US. This is a map of reported sightings. At the time (May 12) the two confirmed specimens are located within a small area in Washington State.

3) Washington State Department of Agriculture is doing everything they can to track sightings, to determine if nests exist, with the understanding that if/when found they will be eradicated. This decisive and aggressive approach reduces the chances this species will spread from this location if they are found. There is also a public FB page monitoring and surveying residents in Washington State.

4) The Asian giant hornet does not disperse far on its own. They do not have a wide foraging range and without human interference will likely remain close to the area they inhabit. Like other social wasps, the majority of individuals are sterile females. If a person was to find a specimen and purposely introduce to another state, it would have to be a living, fertilized queen, and find the new habitat favorable. There is an excellent, jargon-free and comprehensive USDA document about Vespa mandarinia, called the New Pest Response Guidelines if you want to know more.

5) Some individuals have a life-threatening response to the venom from bee stings, wasp stings or both. They should not be any more concerned about the Asian giant hornet than any other wasp (really less so, since they aren’t present), but should continue to take precautions to avoid stings and have an emergency response plan (ie. medical alert ID bracelet, epinephrine injection) as they would normally for any bee or wasp population.

We all should become somewhat familiar with the common stinging insects in the area and learn how to avoid nests. A little bit of education and awareness may help to avoid social colonies of wasps, as they usually on sting out of defense. Already this spring, paper wasps and yellowjacket queens are looking for a suitable place to start a colony, and cicada killers will be out once annual cicadas emerge from the soil. Many of these are beneficial or neutral and are not aggressive towards humans unless provoked, please stay safe and do not purposely kill any of these creatures mistaking them for an Asian giant hornet.

Look alikes in Nebraska
Here are the common stinging insects in Nebraska in order of size and when they are usually most active. At this time, we do not have any hornets commonly found in the state, much less the Asian giant hornet. Photo: J. Green and WSDA for Asian giant hornet

Scientific Resources:

There are many fabulous resources online right now from various university extension entomologists working on getting reliable and accurate information into the communities they serve. It is pretty united statement to say that the name “Murder Hornet” has done nothing to help our efforts as educators.

PODCAST: The team at Arthro-pod comprised of Jonathan Larson, Michael Skvarla, and myself, produced a special edition episode, entitled What the heck is a “murder hornet”? It is 20-minutes long and will save you from reading any more about these invasive pests.

Vespa mandarinia from WSDA Website
Asian giant hornet, Vespa mandarinia, has a large orange-yellow head with prominent eyes. It can be up to 2-inches in length. At this time specimens have only been recovered from Washington State. Photo: Washington State Department of Agriculture

Resources on the Asian giant hornet, Vespa mandarinia, written by Entomologists

Dog in a bee costume
Here is a photo of my dog, Pip, in her homemade bee costume.
Jody Green, PhD
Extension Urban Entomologist at Nebraska Extension
Jody Green is the extension urban entomologist at Nebraska Extension in Douglas-Sarpy Counties. She specializes in structural, household, and health-related insect pests.
Jody Green, PhD on LinkedinJody Green, PhD on Twitter

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