Don’t Freak Out About The Giant Hornet

We know that a lot of you are hearing about the Giant Asian Hornet, which is being called by a super scary name. You do not need to panic or freak out about this. Here are some things we wanted to share, since Ruby has been following this for a year, not just since the media pounced on this story yesterday. Folks have been anticipating the arrival of this invasive species for several years, so there are robust networks in place to identify and track these insects.

They look scary, and they are bad news, but do not panic!

There have been very few confirmed sightings of the giant hornet in the US and Canada. TWO of these hornets were identified and confirmed in Washington State in 2019, and a nest was found and destroyed in British Columbia. This year, ONE was found in British Columbia (near the site where the nest was) and ONE was found (dead specimen) in Washington state in May of 2020. The reason these were found is because there is (and has been) a huge effort in the PNW to educate beekeepers and the public to identify and trap them, so that we can stop the spread. Additionally, a few have been identified in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Yes, they look scary and their sting sounds very bad, but generally speaking, you do NOT need to panic about this.

If you are a beekeeper, you ALSO do not need to panic about this. You do need to educate yourself, know how to identify them (and how to differentiate them from cicada killers which look similar and are also quite large), and if you’re in the PNW, it is a good idea to learn how to trap them and install a trap near your apiary. Here is the information on how to build a trap for them (they are TOO BIG for the normal yellow jacket/wasp traps).

Calling this insect a “murder hornet,” a moniker that has come up seemingly overnight, is really inaccurate and unnecessary.

The Asian Giant Hornet Watch / Washington State Department of Agriculture has already posted announcements warning people to stop killing random bees they see, thinking they are these giant hornets. Apparently people are killing bumblebees, which breaks my heart because they LOOK NOTHING LIKE A HORNET.

If you think you see one, TAKE A PICTURE OR VIDEO and get the fuck away from it.

Don’t try to kill it because 1. you’re probably wrong about what type of insect you’re killing, and 2. if you’re right, you’ll likely get stung which sounds truly terrible.

To report an Asian Giant Hornet sighting, contact the Washington State Department of Agriculture Pest Program at 1-800-443-6684, pestprogram@agr.wa.gov or online at agr.wa.gov/hornets.

For questions about protecting honey bees from hornets, contact WSU Extension scientist Tim Lawrence at (360) 639-6061 or timothy.lawrence@wsu.edu.

Here are some scary claims being made and their basis in reality:

They can sting through a beekeeper’s suit: True, but so can all wasps and all hornets and also honey bees (ask me how I know).

Their sting can kill you: True, if you are allergic one sting can kill you. If you’re not allergic, typically it takes multiple stings for fatality to occur. FYI, you can also die from being stung by many other insects that are more populous in the US. So the risk is low.

They kill about 50 people per year in Japan, the country where they are most prevalent – there are 126 million people living in Japan so the risk of dying from being stung is 0.0000432%. Given there were only 2 confirmed Giant Asian Hornets in the US (and they were killed), your risk is considerably lower than that.

They murder honey bees: True, but so do LOTS of other wasps and hornets (I’ve had two hives killed by yellow jackets), as well animals such as as skunks, marauding humans, and bears.

Honey bees in Japan have demonstrated a defensive behavior against these hornets in which the bees surround the hornet and literally cook it with the heat coming off their bodies. (This is a behavior common among honey bees in response to hornets or wasps trying to rob their hives; however the University of Washington has said honey bees here in the US have not used this behavior defensively against these hornets).

P.S. For the love of all things holy, can we retire the “murder hornet” name? It’s so stupid and nobody needs any extra inspiration to panic right now.

36 comments

    • unfortunately probably not. like many wasps and hornets, the colony dies in the fall and a pregnant queen overwinters underground, builds a small next and lays 6-10 hornets, then the group of them establish their big nest for the year.

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  1. Thanks for the dose of sanity and reassurance! I’ve had a phobia about bees, hornets, and wasps since I was young. While I won’t be taking up beekeeping any time soon, I’ve made peace with bees and don’t need any extra anxiety these days! Your post helps put things into perspective. Thank you!

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  2. We have had that hornet in the US much longer than your article implies. We’ve had them in this country at least the last fifteen or twenty years. They are dossel as compared to our native hornet but can and do sting. Also, they are primarily nocturnal. All of this is through personal observation.

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    • They were not introduced here purposely, University of Washington and the folks in Vancouver are trying to figure out how they did get here, but often with invasive species, we don’t know the original source of how they got here. They were definitely not introduced on purpose.

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  3. Great info, can you please take the “F” word out so I can share this with my gardening group. Thank you!

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    • I chose the language here purposely, to indicate the severity of the suggestion to stay away from them, so I’m not planning to change it. Perhaps you could share with a “head’s up” there is one swear word in it, so people could know it’s there and avoid it if they don’t want to read that word?

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  4. Thank you for your great information, however there is an error in your math.

    Your risk calculation of percentage of Japan’s population is off by a factor of 1000.

    50 ÷ 126,000,000 = 0.0000004 which equates to 0.00004 % not 0.00000004 %. To obtain the percentage you multiply the result of the division by 100.

    As the double check, the result of 0.0000004 x 126,000,000 = 50.4 and to get the percentage of 126,000,000 you multiply the result 0.0000004 x 100 = 0.00004 %.

    Thought you might want to know.

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  5. I’ve seen these bees my entire life here in the south. We’ve been dealing with them as long as we’ve been dealing with kudzu. Yellow jackets are much more dangerous and harder to kill.

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    • These are new to the US – there are some large wasps and hornets in the South for sure, but these are different. These new hornets are more dangerous and harder to kill than yellow jackets.

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  6. I remember stories about Killer Bees from South America when I was growing up. TMZ has accomplished what it does best, and that’s overstate an issue, create a stir, then move on to the next big thing.
    Thank you guys for being honest and forthright about this issue.
    For those of us living outside the PNW I for one am thankful for your candid honesty. I wish you health and sanity in this crazy new world we are living in!

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    • Thanks for the feedback! The main thing people are freaking out about is the fear they will kill you, so I tried to provide some numbers to show that’s unlikely. The other thing is that people think there are a LOT of them here or its an “invasion” so I also clarified that. I tried to put the threat to honey bees in context, and to clarify some of the claims being made that sound scary if you don’t know a lot about stinging insects (for example almost everything can sting through the bee suit, that isn’t special about this bug).

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  7. Hello!

    This article was extremely informative as someone who knows nothing about Asian Giant Hornets or insects in general! Thank you for taking the time to write this, it was succinct and easy to comprehend.

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  8. Maybe I’m just old and crochety–but I would respectfully urge the writer of this blog to avoid language like this: If you think you see one, TAKE A PICTURE OR VIDEO and get the fuck away from it. I’d encourage nature-lovers of all ages to read about what you write about, to respect and revere nature and learn as much as you can about the world around us–but language like this is unnecessary and excessive. Please re-think this and reconsider your audience of (I hope) all ages, before you use profanity like this. If we toss around words like this so casually, what’s left for when we really need such extreme (and hopefully, seldom-used) words?

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    • Thank you for the feedback. I chose the word consciously, and not casually. The sentiment I’m expressing is stronger with vehement language. My intended audience for this piece is not children, so I hope the adults reading it can skim over that one word if they find it offensive.

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  9. Thank you so much for this! My husband was watching videos on YouTube last night, and it was causing me so much anxiety because I’m allergic to hornets. I feel much better after reading this, and will share it!

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  10. European honeybees don’t try to cook this hornet. There’s a YouTube National Geographic video showing them attacking European Honeybees in Japan. The European Honeybees try to sting them to no avail,

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    • You’re right, and that’s why I noted that UW has said they have not observed this behavior here, but it is possible they could learn this behavior, so I thought it was worth mentioning.

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  11. The European Hornet (Vespa crabro) is similar in shape but is smaller than the Japanese Hornet (Vespa mandarinia). It is not aggressive unless disturbed and is mostlikely what some of the commentors here have seen.. They are most commonly seen in the Fall feeding on apples on the ground and in the trees in NY. Seen next to an Eastern Yellow jacket, they look huge but the Japanese hornet makes the European hornet look small.

    The honeybee in Japan that has the defense against these is Apis cerana which has had ample time to be naturally selected for resistance against this hornet. They are a native Asian honeybee which has been kept in hives and has co exited in Southeast Asia with this hornet long before man put them in hive boxes.

    Like some of the other recent genetic selections we have done to the European honeybee, we would probably need to do some alterations for them to gain the behavior to defend themselves against this hornet.

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    • Excellent information! Yes, most people claiming to have seen the AGH have probably seen the European hornet or cicada killer/cicada wasp.

      And yes, apis cerrana co-evolved with the AGH so they have developed defenses. Interestingly, another key problem for apis mellifera (european honey bee) are varroa mites, which also co-evolved with apis cerrana and don’t cause the same devastation for them.

      Our best chance is to keep this invasive species out, because the evolution of defense mechanisms takes a long time, and it’s not guaranteed that they will develop defense mechanisms before too much damage is done.

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  12. I have 5 beehives and seems like everything is a threat to their mortality. I hate the thought of this guy beheading an entire hive for a few carcasses, and for that reason I think the “killer” moniker is justified, and would like to see it eradicated as quickly as possible.

    PS – The get the f away from it comment made me laugh.

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  13. I really appreciate the article, was a good read.

    o Alfalfa said the behavior wasn’t observed by NG in *Japan*, not Washington.
    o I’m not the least put off by the occasional expletive but will go along with the others, in that if ‘There’s no need to freak…’ why not just calmly walk away rather than ‘get the f- away’?
    o We’re calling them ‘Murder Hornets’ because when we call out anything bad as ‘Asian’ i.e. Giant Asian Hornets, we’re accused of being xenophobic.

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    • Thank you.
      I’m not sure who “alfalfa” is or what you mean by “NG” but I think you’re talking about the defensive response that Japanese honey bees (apis cerrana) use against the Asian Giant Hornet.

      The murder hornet moniker was invented to be salacious and get more eyeballs on the media articles. In the fall and winter, when first discovered, there were several media articles using the proper name. It didn’t get the kind of widespread attention that it did, when all of a sudden it was being called “murder hornet” by every media outlet.

      I’ve addressed the use of the F word in other comments, but the reason I used it is that I wanted to convey a level of vehemence that no other word effectively conveys.

      I think it’s definitely good to be conscious of language and not reinforcing xenophobia, but just using the term “Asian Giant Hornet” which is the common name for the species isn’t xenophobic by default. I personally like “giant hornet” – it’s descriptive and not salacious and avoids any hint of xenophobia. Hope that helps.

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  14. Thank you for this information, it is very helpful! I live in Central Oregon and a woman I work with said one was found here this last week on her brother’s farm, “the first confirmed sighting in Oregon” according to her. Are you at all familiar with this?

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