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Eight questions about the Asian Giant Hornet, aka the “Murder Hornet”

Ohio State entomologist breaks down the facts about the world’s largest hornet

In a question-and-answer session, Ohio State University expert Joe Boggs answers questions people are asking about the Asian Giant Hornet.

Boggs is an assistant professor in the Department of Entomology, College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and an OSU Extension commercial horticulture educator.

Q: How did the Asian Giant Hornet get the name “Murder Hornet”?

A: Well, you know, entomologists are kind of laughing about that. Presumably, the name came from Japan, with an entomologist over there that said, “You know, the sting is so painful. It’s like murder.” I’ve never seen it in writing to say that’s where it came from. But it has caused a bit of a challenge among entomologists because, you know, it’s not murdering anything.

Q: How did the Asian Giant Hornet get to the United States?

A: We don’t know for sure. I mean, there’s no smoking gun. But this insect behaves very much like our own native bald-faced hornets, for example in yellowjackets, and that is at the end of the season, queens emerge and they look for a place to spend the winter. So we might imagine a queen flying off to find somewhere protected for the winter and maybe accidentally making her way into something – they got loaded into a shipping container. But it does indicate that we need to be aware that this hornet can travel. And that’s very important.

Q: Why should we be concerned?

A: The concern we have is that it is a hunter. It is a meat eater and it is a major hunter of other insects. And what they’ve seen in Japan, is that they go after European honeybees. Now, I use that very deliberately because Asia does have its own honeybee. They have the Asian honeybee, but they’re not as good at gathering nectar and producing honey. The European honeybees like we have here are very good at that. So if you have an insect that will fly in and within a few hours just completely destroy a hive … it’s been very destructive on the European honeybees that beekeepers are keeping in Japan.

Q: Are they really “giant”?

A: They are the biggest hornet in the world. When you see pictures of them, it’s not an exaggeration. You pull out a ruler, an inch and a half is pretty darn big, but I would imagine if they’re flying around they probably look about one foot long. People that have seen these do say that they are a very big insect, and they buzz when they fly.

Q: Are they aggressive?

A: No, they’re not any more aggressive than our own yellowjackets and bald-faced hornets. I just stated that in a very deliberate way, if you grew up like I did, I learned firsthand bald-faced hornets can be very aggressive if you throw a rock at their nest. That’s the same with these Asian giant hornets. They’re not aggressive by themselves. As far as, is this a killer or is it going to murder us and all that? No, it’s not any worse than our natives. Again, if we leave them alone, they’ll leave us alone. However, if they do sting, we can’t look past the fact that this is a giant hornet. It has a big stinger. It does deliver a lot of venom.

That does bring up a concern. It’s a concern we have whether we’re talking about paper wasps, yellowjackets or our own native bald-faced hornets. That is we don’t want people who are allergic to bee stings to get near one of these things, any more so that we would want them to get near yellowjackets’ nest because of that extra venom they pack. It’s a big insect, you’re more likely to have a problem if you have an allergy to bees.

Q: What are the main characteristics of Asian Giant Hornets?

A: They are a social insect. So you have a colony and that colony’s objective is to make more hornets overall. Starting out in the spring, each one of these colonies are started by a single queen. She’s all by herself. She has to go out and gather materials to build the nest, then once she starts laying eggs, those eggs hatch, she has to tend to the young. Now, this is where what do they do really comes into play. These are meat eaters. Now the workers go out, what are they doing? Well, they’re going out looking primarily for meat. Here’s another behavioral trait, they appear to be more of a forest insect, and when you think about that, it makes sense for meat eaters because you have multiple canopies, a lot more meat out there.

Q: Do we have similar hornets in Ohio?

A: Yes and no. As I mentioned before, we have bald-faced hornets and yellowjackets. You think of these black and yellow small insects that sting, which may make a nest in the ground or occasionally in the wall of a house. Those yellowjackets are highly aggressive against their nest. Bald-faced hornets, that’s the stinging insects that make those round balls of paper that are hanging up in trees.

So far, all the pictures that we’ve gotten where people are suspecting it’s an Asian Giant Hornet turn out to be another non-native called the European Hornet.

So we have another non-native that’s already here. They don’t seem to cause much trouble, but they are big. They look like a yellowjacket on steroids. We’re probably going to have a lot of folks mistaking the European Hornet for the Asian Giant Hornet. It’s not as common as bald-faced or yellowjackets, but it can be mistaken for it.

Q: How will we know when the Asian Giant Hornet reaches Ohio ?

A: Well, that’s an excellent question, one that we’re very proud of here in Ohio. The Ohio Department of Agriculture has a website, they’re the regulatory agency that would be involved if these Asian Giant Hornets are found in Ohio. A person can make a report on this website but there is one stipulation, you need to have a picture. The reason for that is pretty straightforward. ODA would like to identify the insect before committing resources to investigate. We are the only state beyond Washington State that has a reporting site for this hornet, and reporting it’s very important. We’ve gotten almost exclusively images of European Hornets, which is good – we would rather have people send a hundred images of something else, as opposed to missing that single image that could be an Asian Giant Hornet. We urge that people take pictures and report it.

More information is available at https://bygl.osu.edu/node/1544

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