Asian giant hornets, an invasive species native to Japan, have been spotted in the northwestern United States. 

Australian fires, Kobe Bryant’s death, COVID-19 and now there is talk of a new threat- Asian giant hornets. 

David Claborn, director of the master of public health program at Missouri State, said Asian giant hornets (vespa mandarinia) are native to Japan. Yet, they have been spotted in the northwest part of the country and southwest Canada.

“My understanding is the term ‘murder hornets’ was applied to the hornet only recently as part of some sensationalism regarding its danger,” Claborn said.

However, Claborn said the hornet does kill around 40 people in Japan each year, the same number of people who die from honey bee stings each year in the United States.

“At present, I think we have a lot of other things that are more important (to worry about),” Claborn said.

This is simply an invasive species, and invasive species make their way into the country all the time, Claborn said.

“Sometimes they make it; most don’t,” Claborn said.

Claborn said when these insects make their way into an area, normally they have no natural predators, which allows the population to take off. He is unsure if the hornets will have this same advantage

“I suspect that it will have too much competition from existing populations of the European hornet,” Claborn said.

According to Penn State Entomology, “The European or giant hornet is an introduced species first reported in the United States in 1840 in New York.”

Penn State said the hornet ranges from the Dakotas to Florida and is the most common in the United States.

However, these Asian giant hornets are new and can harm beehives.

“It does this by capturing a worker and cutting off its head and abdomen, collecting up enough thoraxes to make a good-sized meatball,” Claborn said.

This “meatball” is then fed to the larvae of the hornets, Claborn said.

Claborn said the hornets do have a powerful venom to bees and humans that should be monitored.

“The venom is not the most toxic insect venom, though it is not mild either,” Claborn said. “That being said, the hornet is very large and can inject a large amount of venom so they could present a danger to individuals.”

This hornet is not in Missouri yet. But Claborn said that it is possible for them to make it here, but he is unsure if it will be a problem. 

“Existing literature on the hornet states that it prefers to live on the wooded slopes of mountains and avoids plains and deserts,” Claborn said. “Of course that description doesn't bode well for the Ozarks, but it is just too early to tell if it will be a problem.”

Susan Anderson, senior wildlife biology major, said she is not worried about the hornets. However, she is worried about the damage they could do to bees.

“(The hornet) does pose issues with bee populations because of how fast they can ravage a hive,” Anderson said. “But, I believe with careful identification and conservation departments staying vigilant, this crisis could be avoided.”

Students can do their part in preventing the crisis. Claborn said that in general, it is a good idea to avoid all types of hornets.

However, if students have insects they need help identifying, there is a proper way to do so.

"(Students) should wrap the specimens in tissue paper (Kleenex, not toilet tissue), place in a stout box and mail them to the county extension agent with a description of where and when the hornets were collected,” Claborn said.  

Additionally, Claborn can help identify them.

When comparing the hornet invasion to everything this year, Claborn said, “I don’t think it will approach the importance of this year’s coronavirus.”

“Murder hornets” may not be the biggest issue this year, however, it is important to try and avoid them.

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