Insect experts say the buzz around a bug dubbed the “murder hornet” is being overhyped.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to kill tens of thousands of people in the United States, a new viral story began to emerge about an invasive stinging insect called the “murder hornet,” but experts are saying not to be overly concerned.
Bug experts told the journal that while the Asian giant hornet could pose a threat to honeybees, those in the U.S. shouldn’t worry that the large two-inch hornet will kill them.
“They are not ‘murder hornets.’ They are just hornets,” said Chris Looney, a Washington Agriculture Department entomologist.
Reports about the insect’s presence in the Pacific Northwest began to emerge this month and sparked fear that the bugs may be invading the region. Despite that, no live hornets have been seen in 2020 after two dead bugs were discovered in Washington last December. Additionally, only one nest was found in Canada last September that was then destroyed.
Although the hornet has killed people in Asia and has more powerful venom than other stinging insects, the deaths are incredibly rare, the experts stressed.
“The number of people who are stung and have to seek medical attention is incredibly small,” Looney said.
Entomologist Doug Tallamy at the University of Delaware said the phenomenon is “99% media hype.”
Experts said the media attention about the species is reminiscent of the 1970s fear about “killer bees,” or Africanized honeybees, moving into the southern U.S. from South America. University of Georgia bee expert Keith Delaplane said that even if a person were to be stung by a single hornet, it would not likely be a medical emergency.
“It’s a really nasty sting for humans,” Delaplane said. “It’s like the Africanized bee … A dozen [stings] you are OK; 100, not so much.”
May Berenbaum, an entomologist at the University of Illinois, contrasted the hornets to mosquitos and said the latter are a much deadlier insect as they kill millions across the globe each year by carrying deadly pathogens such as malaria.
Doug Yanega, senior scientist at the University of California Riverside Entomology Research Museum, noted that in some Asian countries, including Japan, humans have “co-existed” with the bugs for millennia.
Although not a concern for the average person, and not yet a concern to honeybees, the species could cause damage to the region’s bee population if it were to become more widespread. The hornets often invade beehives and decapitate the residents until the hive is essentially destroyed. Although Asian honeybees have adapted a method of killing the hornets, honeybees in the U.S. do not have the same defenses.
The threat of the hornets is something that beekeepers should take seriously but not the average person, the experts said.