Posted on: May 5, 2020 at 6:55 pm
Last updated: May 11, 2020 at 10:55 am

A jarring video was recently shared on Twitter is making news around the country. The video features a terrifyingly large hornet viscously killing a mouse that is four times its size. The giant insect often referred to as the ‘murder hornet,’ normally attacks bees. This time, it turned to a larger target and proved just how deadly it can be [1].

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The Asian Giant Hornet

The Asian Giant Hornet, whose scientific name is Vespa mandarina, can grow to be two inches (five centimeters) in length. They are typically found in eastern and southeastern parts of Asia, most commonly in Japan [2].

Despite being the largest hornet on the planet, it is not what makes them unique. The Asian Giant Hornet is the only wasp species known to stage group attacks on beehives. They attack in three phases: the hunting phase, the slaughter phase, and the occupation phase.

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During the hunting phase, solitary worker hornets wait near the entrance of the hive to capture bees while they’re in flight. This phase can continue indefinitely, and how quickly the next phase begins typically depends on how close the beehive is to the hornet’s nest.

The slaughter phase is when anywhere from two to fifty hornets attack a single hive that has been marked by a worker hornet. They usually do this by remaining near the hive entrance and attacking bees that are launching a counter-attack. Hornets do not usually die during these attacks, however, they can be killed by competing hornet groups. Once they begin an attack, they will not stop until they are finished, even if they are disturbed, and occasionally hornets will starve to death if an attack goes on too long.

During the occupation phase, the hornets will guard the hive and threaten other animals who come nearby audibly clicking their mandibles.

These hornets kill their prey by biting them to death and decapitating them, then bringing the head back to feed their larvae [2].

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Read: Want to Help Bees? Leave the Dandelions Alone This Spring

The Hornets Touch Down in North America

The hornets were first recorded in North America in 2019 in British Columbia, Canada. A few months later, they were found in Washington State. Scientists are now bracing for more hornet sightings, as they begin their life cycle in the spring [3].

Japanese honeybees have evolved so that they have some defense against the hornets, but North American species have not [2]. Scientists are now hunting down the insects, concerned that they could destroy the bee population in the US and Canada.

“This is our window to keep it from establishing,” said Chris Looney, an entomologist at the Washington State Department of Agriculture. “If we can’t do it in the next couple of years, it probably can’t be done.” [4]

Are they a Threat to People?

Asian Hornets do not typically attack people, however, they will if they are threatened. Multiple stings are capable of killing a human, and every year in Japan, where they are most common, approximately thirty to forty people die from being stung [3].

The hornets’ stingers are long enough to pierce your skin, even through a bee suit, and the pain is excruciating. Conrad Bérubé, a beekeeper and entomologist in Nanaimo, British Columbia, was assigned to exterminate a hive that was located on Vancouver Island. Despite wearing shorts, thick sweatpants, and a bee suit, the hornets still managed to sting him- seven times in total.

“It was like having red-hot thumbtacks being driven into my flesh,” he said [4]. 

Read: A Comprehensive Guide to Yellow Stripey Things

The Plan of Attack

Finding and exterminating these hornets is going to be an arduous task. The insects typically establish homes in densely wooded areas, and often hide their nest underground. They also can fly many miles every day, at speeds of up to twenty miles per hour, making them difficult to track.

State officials have mapped out a plan on a grid of where they are going to place hundreds of traps. Since the activity of the hornets in their nests can keep the inside temperature at up to 86 degrees, trackers are exploring the possibility of using thermal imaging to examine the forest floors.

They also may try using advanced tools that could track the hum the hornet makes when in flight, and if they catch a hornet, they may be able to use radio-frequency identification tags to monitor where it goes and follow it to its nest [4].

Bees Must be Protected

The honeybee population in North America has already suffered significant losses due to other factors such as climate change. Between 1947 and 2017, the number of honeybee colonies in the United States dropped from six million to only 2.5 million, and between October 2018 and April 2019, forty percent of the country’s colonies died- the largest loss ever recorded [3].

Pollinators are responsible for one out of every three bites of food in the US, and increase the nation’s crop values every year by fifteen billion dollars. Bees are our most common pollinators, and losing them will have a disastrous effect on our ecosystem and our food supply [3].

If you suspect you have found a nest of Asian Giant Hornets, be sure you stay far away from it, and notify state authorities immediately.

Keep Reading: Minnesota Will Pay Homeowners to Replace Lawns with Bee-Friendly Wildflowers, Clover and Native Grasses

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Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!

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