Recently discovered in the United States of the first time, the Asian giant hornet — also known as the “murder hornet” — is the world’s largest species of hornet. Originally from Asia, the hornet has a painful sting and preys on honey bees, wiping out entire colonies.
To date, the only location this hornet has been found in the U.S. is the state of Washington. Still, Maine insect experts are keeping an eye on this new pest in hopes that it doesn’t spread.
“We’re hoping that the regulatory entomologists out there in the Pacific Northwest will nip that in the bud,” said Clay Kirby, insect diagnostician at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. “But that’s going to be a whole other bug story I’m sure, hopefully one that will never have to be written from the state of Maine.”
In the fall of 2019, this hornet was found in two locations in British Columbia. And soon after, the Washington state Department of Agriculture received two reports of the hornet near Blaine, Washington, a town in the northwest corner of the state on the Canadian border. Scientists don’t know how they ended up in the area, according to CNN, though it’s plausible that they were transported in international cargo.
This month, The New York Times and other major media outlets ran stories about the hornet, raising public awareness.
“I just started hearing about them within the last two or three weeks,” said Jim Dill, a pest management specialist with UMaine Cooperative Extension. “I would hope that Washington state is trying to do something to eliminate them if they can. They’ve certainly got to get a handle on them.”
If the murder hornet isn’t eradicated in the Pacific Northwest, Dill said it’s hard to guess how long it would take for it to reach Maine.
“It would probably be a while because they’d have to most likely move on their own,” Dill said.
Due to the hornet’s behavior, size and flashy appearance, Dill is hopeful that it will not be easily and mistakenly transported by people to new parts of the country. As an example, Dill
pointed to the spotted wing drosophila, a fruit fly from Asia that spread all the way across the United States — from California to Maine — in just four years. The fruit fly was first found in Hawaii in the 1980s, in California in 2008, in Michigan in 2010 and in Maine in 2012.
The Asian giant hornet is much more conspicuous than a fruit fly.
Measuring 1.5 to 2 inches long, the Asian giant hornet has a large orange-yellow head with prominent eyes and a black-and-yellow striped abdomen. It gathers in large colonies that usually nest in the ground. And while they do not generally attack people or pets, they can attack when threatened. Their stinger is longer than that of a honeybee, their venom is more toxic and they can sting repeatedly.
It has been dubbed the “murder hornet” because just a few of them can destroy a honey bee hive in a matter of hours. Entering a “slaughter phase,” the hornets kill bees by decapitating them. They then take over the hive and feed the honey bee larvae — baby bees — to their own young.
They also attack other insects but are not known to destroy entire populations of them.
“That’s the last thing we need,” Dill said.
Watch: Honey bees in Maine