Asian Giant Hornet Update –  Where Do We Go From Here?

They’re big, they’re mean and they swarmed our social media timelines: the so-called “Murder Hornet”, AKA Asian giant hornet that briefly fascinated and terrified us back in the spring of 2020. They were first identified in Washington state, and the story soon became an international news event, as it sadly only adds on to the anxiety surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. The good news: experts agree that this national interest and concern for this potentially invasive species is helping the Asian murder hornet population stay low and stay isolated in Washington state. The hornets can not only harm us; they mainly target our struggling honey bee population for a big meal. We’ve seen what they can do to honey bee hives and how they wipe out colonies, killing dozens, if not hundreds of innocent bees in the process. What will give you a sigh of relief is, as of this publication, the Asian giant hornet has still only been spotted in Washington state and nowhere else in the United States.

Asian Giant Hornets Are Still Being Studied

While we’re still trying to figure out how the Asian giant hornet got here to the US in the first place, a brand new report from Texas A&M Today says the university’s entomology department has been flooded with calls and emails about potential sightings in the lone star state. David Ragsdale, the chief scientific officer and associate director of Texas A&M AgriLife Research, and professor in the Department of Entomology, says both private pest control companies and their own department have been getting up to five to ten pictures or tips a day!

While the experts are thankful for the submissions and concern from Americans, they want us to start looking for more specific physical attributes of the potential Asian giant hornet before sending in a tip. You can do this safely by taking a picture of a dead one you may have found lying around your property. Remember: they get the nickname “Murder Hornet” for a reason, as Japanese authorities confirm up to 50 people die a year in connection with the hornets’ group stinging attack. If you think you spot a murder hornet flying around, you’ll know it’s them if one turns into a dozen or more, and they are ready to sting you.

That means you should definitely take extreme precautions before attempting to identify one.

Knowing What To Look For

When looking at photos of the Asian giant hornet, the first thing you’ll notice is its size: they can be up to two inches long and are actually known as the world’s largest hornets. There are also some specific physical attributes you will notice when comparing pictures of the hornet with other wasps or hornet species. Entomologists say Asian giant hornets’ heads are as wide or wider than its shoulders, where the wings and legs are connected. Their stripes can be bright orange or yellow which should cover its abdomen like a fresh coat of paint. Its thorax and antenna are the same color and should match as dark brown.

Asian Giant Hornet VS Cicada Killer Wasp

The experts at Texas A&M say, out of the hundreds of tips from bug hunters they’ve received so far this year, the number one bug mistaken for the Asian giant hornet is the so-called cicada killer wasp. They say the main similarities between this wasp and the Asian giant hornet are the color of the stripes, a strikingly large size and their tendency to dive-bomb those who they see as a threat. The murder hornet is definitely one bug you don’t want to mess with, but the cicada killer wasp is mostly harmless. The cicada killer wasp may also be spotted more this year in particular, because 2020 coincides with a summer of the cicada emergence. That’s the sound of the summer: a loud, droning noise of the cicadas waking up and trying to find mates; the more cicadas, the bigger the harvest for these wasps who are looking for a quick meal. Location is also a tell-tale sign it’s a cicada killer wasp versus an Asian murder hornet. You’ll know it’s the wasp because they are guarding their home nest that just so happens to be either under some sand or soil near plants or bushes outside the home.

Texas A&M officials say the Asian giant hornet can also be confused with the horntail or wood wasps. Those wasps also have a bigger-than-average size and common color scheme. The main difference is these horntail or wood wasps have no visible waist, unlike the Asian giant hornet. Officials also say horntail and wood wasps may look like they have long, scary stingers – but those are mostly for show and not even poisonous.

The cicada killer, wood or horntail wasps are harmless – that’s a good thing. Another reason you’ll sleep well at night; the murder hornets are still only reported in Washington state, and eagle-eyed entomologists are ensuring their numbers don’t go up any higher. The experts say the safe wasps are solitary and are not prone to attack in large numbers, unlike the hornets. The key to spotting and safely observing wasps or hornets zip around you can be boiled down to The Beatles’ adage: “Let it be”. Asian giant hornets are fiercely aggressive and territorial, so do not take a swing or chase them away – just leave them alone! Treat the situation like you are a real detective or private eye: look to see where the suspected murder hornet flew off to and alert your local pest control experts and university entomology departments immediately. Check back in the future and we’ll have even more up to date information in another Asian Giant Hornet update!

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