Murder hornets: fact or fiction?
Miranda Edge, ANR Extension Educator
Recent reports have brought attention to a new insect that seems to be wreaking havoc in the United States. The Asian giant hornet is originally from tropical, temperate Asia and has been known to kill honeybees and even humans. However, do not fear finding this invasive species in Harrison County any time soon; they’ve only been seen in British Columbia and Washington state. To date, only a single colony has been discovered in Washington state (Purdue Landscape Report, 2020). It also unknown how well they overwinter in the Pacific Northwest conditions.
Asian giant hornets are about 1-1/2 to 2 inches in length and not necessarily aggressive, just hungry. Humans are usually attacked when they are deemed a threat to their hive. They generally nest in wooded areas in abandoned burrows in the ground. If you think you have found a colony, please do not approach it; the outcome could be deadly.
In Asia, the hornets are known for decimating established honeybee colonies. The hornets seek out native bees and honeybees and can destroy a colony in a matter of minutes. This could cause major damage to our honey bee populations, just as we are starting to establish new hives and bring numbers back up from previous mite, herbicide and weather issues.
It is probably quite unlikely that this “murder” hornet has actually reached the Midwest since it was noticed in Washington state late in 2019. So, what would be a possible reason why people are seeing similar insects flying around at this time? There could be several answers to that question. Let’s look at some similar insect species to see what characteristics could lead us to think there are Asian giant hornets close to home.
Similar species might include the European hornet or the Cicada killer hornet. Both species are of similar size but tend to be a bit smaller than the Asian giant hornet. Queens, however, tend to be much larger than the rest of the colony and this time of year they are emerging from hibernation to seek out a location to build a new colony. Thankfully, these species tend to be fairly docile unless they feel threatened.
If you are able to observe a hornet closely, you will see the European hornet has a reddish-brown head that turns yellow just around the face. A Cicada killer has a more yellowish head, much like the Asian giant hornet, but it will most likely not become aggressive unless you are close to its underground nest. Both the European hornet and Cicada killer can seek out bees but will also find other insects to feed on, especially the Cicada killer as its name suggests.
If you suspect you have found a non-native species of hornet or wasp, please let us know. Extension Educators are still working and we can use pictures or samples to identify what you have found.
For more information about each of these insects, please check out the Purdue Landscape Report at https://www.purduelandscapereport.org and the University of Kentucky Entomology site at https://entomology.ca.uky.edu/extension-entomology. You can contact me by email at [email protected] or by calling 812-738-4236.