America’s Most Wanted — A Murder Hornet

In 2020, there are some things we don’t want to catch, COVID-19 for example. Authorities, though, really want to catch a murder hornet right now. Personally, I don’t want to catch either, but the government’s  desperately seeking a live version of the giant pest. Why is the murder hornet #1 on their wanted list? Let’s check out the buzz on this intriguing story.

A murder hornet is the world’s largest species of hornet. Typically it is about 2 inches in length. If you have difficulty envisioning this size insect, just look at your thumb. Murder hornets are the size of an average thumb. YIKES!

Baseball and apple pie may be American, but murder hornets are not. If you hadn’t heard of them until this year, there’s a good reason; these pests aren’t native to the U.S. Also known as the Asian Giant Hornet, this bug is originally from an area stretching from northern India to East Asia. So what are murder hornets doing here in the U.S.A.? Apparently they are adventuresome things and decided to catch a ride on some cargo, likely agricultural, bound for overseas. 

Americans on the West Coast need to be warned that the murder hornets (and not the British) are coming. The hornets  invaded Washington State in December 2019 after first being spotted in Canada in August. Government authorities are hot on the bugs’ trail and, after a mere seven months, were final able to capture one on July 14th in Whatcom County, Washington. (In all honesty, I’d never heard of Whatcom County OR murder hornets until just recently.) The massive hornet’s capture was aided by the fact the bug was dead, so he had little chance of escaping. 

The government’s goal is to catch a live murder hornet. Isn’t a dead hornet as good (or perhaps better) than a live one? Nope. The plan is to catch live hornets, tag them (with presumably a bug-sized tag), and track them back to their colony. Once the colony is located, it can be eradicated. And time is running out for this eradication. It is less than two months before murder hornet mating season begins; in mid-September queens will mate with male hornets to produce little Asian Giant Hornets. Destroying nests is the only way to prevent the spread of the invasive pest. 

Is this destruction really necessary? I mean how bad can a 2 inch bug be? The answer? MURDEROUS. In Japan, Asian Giant Hornets kill up to fifty people per year. Typical beekeeping clothing is not sufficient to protect individuals from their stings; the hornets’ stingers can also pierce denim jeans. On the bright side, murder hornets don’t generally attack people or pets; however, if they feel threatened, they may go into attack mode. Their potent venom can be toxic if multiple stings are inflicted. Oh, death, where is thy sting? For murder hornets, it’s in their 1/4″ stinger.

The name “murder hornets” comes from the insects’ barbaric behavior towards other insects. These beastly hornets go through a “slaughter phase” from late summer to early fall when they attack beehives. Adult honeybees are decapitated while larvae and pupae are eaten. A hive may be totally destroyed by such an attack in a matter of a few hours. 

OK, that’s not very nice to treat the honeybees so savagely, but why should we humans be up in arms about it and seek to do in the murder hornets? The loss of honeybees will negatively affect humans as a good percentage of our food supply depends on insect pollination; bees do a majority of that work. In fact, in Washington State, one-third of the food supply depends on such pollination. So if you wondered what a bee is so busy doing, now you know. They are pollinating plants so our food will grow.

Now that we understand why murder hornets are really bad guys (er, bugs) and should be on the most wanted list, we need to know what to be on the lookout for. As yet, no murder hornet wanted posters have been displayed in U.S. postal facilities. Thus, a mug shot (bug shot?) of the winged wanted one is provided as a public service at the top of this post.

If you don’t expect to come face to face with a murder hornet, a physical description of one is good to have. In addition to being about 2″ long, these pests have large yellow and orange heads with prominent eyes (all the better to see their victims with presumably), and sharp serrated jaws. Adults sport a “wasp waist” between their thorax and fashionably striped abdomen. .

Helpful as knowing the description of American’s most wanted hornet may be, I don’t intend to get close enough to a hornet, murder or otherwise, to see if its abdomen is striped. But if an alert citizen does spot a murder hornet, that sighting should be reported. Who ya gonna call? Not ghost busters or even hornet busters. You don’t even really call anyone. If you live in Washington State, simply go online to the Washington State Department of Agriculture website to complete a Hornet Watch Report Form  You can advise you spied with your little eye a murder hornet flying by.

Government authorities are working diligently to capture a live murder hornet. How do you trap a murder hornet? So far, the tactic has been to set bottle traps out to attract them. Mice like cheese (hence you put cheese in a mouse trap), but the murder hornet’s have taken a shine to a mixed drink composed of OJ and rice cooking wine. This delicious drink (to hornets) is placed in the bottle to lure them in. Over 40 such bottle traps have been set in the immediate area where the (dead) murder hornet was captured back on July 14th; over 1,000 traps in total are currently in the field.

What happens if a live murder hornet is trapped? I’m no scientist, but I’m guessing the bug will be mad as a hornet. No worries because scientists plan to help the captive chillax in a cooler full of ice until the hornet is immobile. At that point a small tracking tag will be glued to the hornet. Not sure if gorilla glue can be used or if pest paste must be obtained for this job. After the tracking tag is secured, the hornet can be revived and released. Scientists will monitor his movements as relayed by the tiny tracking tag. When the pest makes it home to his colony, a raid will be conducted to raze the hornet’s home and wipe out the hornets. 

While I am not fond of insects in general and stinging ones in particular, it does seem sad that murder is the solution to the problem. We have to murder the murder hornets before they murder the helpful honeybees and jeopardize our food supply. Perhaps a better title for this blog post would have been “Murder, She Wrote.”

Just WONDER-ing:

If you spied a hornet, would you stop and take the time to assess its length before moving away from it? Is the murder hornet’s “slaughter phase” when it savagely kills honeybees just a part of the circle of life? Were you aware that we have the technology in place to track insects?