If Lynn Kimsey, who directs the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, had her say, the Asian giant hornets would NOT be nicknamed “the murder hornets.”
Kimsey, professor of entomology with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and a past president (twice) of the International Society of Hymenopterists, will headline the Bohart Museum's virtual open house (Facebook Live) from 11 a.m. to 11:45 on Friday, May 22. It's the first-ever virtual open house; you can access it and ask questions on the Bohart Facebook page.
The theme is bees and wasps, so Professor Kimsey expects a number of questions about those obscure Asian giant hornets detected last fall in Canada and Washington state, the first confirmed sightings in North America. (One colony was detected and destroyed on Vancouver Island in September, and a single dead adult was found in Blaine, Wash. in December.
However, a news frenzy ("murder hornets are invading North America!") and considerable panic ensued.
So we asked Kimsey (she's granted six news media interviews on murder hornets to date), “What would you call them?”
“I'd just call them giant hornets,” she said matter-of-factly.
And then, in typical Kimsey humor, she deadpanned: “Or big, angry, orange-headed hornets!”
Meanwhile, the Bohart folks' unannounced test drive on Facebook Live earlier this week drew some unexpected participants and a few questions, such as:
- Do mantids often prey on hummingbirds?
- Why are some beetles metallic in color?
- What California beetle is attracted to fresh paint?
"On the website we will have a coloring sheet of the Asian giant hornet drawn by our scientific illustration intern Meghan Crebbins-Oats, an undergrad at UC Davis.”
The Bohart also will celebrate Linnaeus' birthday anniversary. Linnaeus (1707-1778), a Swedish taxonomist and physician known as "the father of modern taxonomy," was born May 23.
UC Davis doctoral student and Bohart associate Charlotte Herbert Alberts, who maintains strong ties to Sweden and taxonomy, thought that a traditional Swedish Fika with Kanelbullar to discuss taxonomy and Linnaeus would be "perfect."
"Hopefully people will be inspired to make some cinnamon buns, color, and think about names for Jason's new spider." (UC Davis professor Jason Bond discovered a new genus in Monterey County and is seeking a species name. (See Bug Squad blog about the spider and where to submit names.)
"The kanelbullars are not overly sweet and the dough is infused with cardamon," said Yang, who baked them for her family this week. They were a big hit.
Meanwhile, Kimsey is ready for lots of questions Friday morning on Facebook Live.
Don't be too surprised if she's asked about that "big, angry, orange-headed hornet."
Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and UC Davis professor of entomology, will answer questions from 11 a.m. to 11:45 a.m., on Friday, May 22 at the Bohart's first-ever virtual open house on FacebookLive. To watch or participate, access the Bohart Museum Facebook site. It will be recorded for those unable to watch it at that time.
Kimsey, an authority on wasps and bees, is a two-time past president of the International Society of Hymenopterists. The director of the Bohart Museum and executive director of the Bohart Museum Society since 1990, she has also served as interim chair and vice chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, now the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
She recently won the C. W. Woodworth Award, the highest honor given by the Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America. (See news story.)
“We thought people would be interested in talking to a wasp/bee expert given all the news about wasps and with spring coming and more people tuning into nature and their back yards due to sheltering in place,” said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator. “We anticipate ‘murder hornet' questions.
“We host open houses to connect people directly to scientists,” Yang said. “Since the museum is closed at this time and social distancing is required, we are setting this up so people can connect with Lynn. We hope to do this regularly with other scientists, but this will be our first.”
North America's first known colony of the Asian giant hornet, Vespa mandarinia, was detected (and destroyed) in September 2019 on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. A single V. mandarinia was found dead in Blaine, Wash., in December 2019.
Three entomologists, including Kimsey just published research on this and the 21 other known species of hornets in the genus Vespa, in the journal Insect Systematics and Diversity.
The article, “The Diversity of Hornets in the Genus Vespa (Hymenoptera: Vespidae; Vespinae); Their Importance and Interceptions in the United States,” is the work of lead author Allan Smith-Pardo, U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS); and co-authors James Carpenter of the American Museum of Natural History's Division of Invertebrate Zoology, and Lynn Kimsey.
The Bohart Museum is also celebrating the birthday anniversary (May 23) of Carl Linnaeus, the father of taxonomy. Linnaeus (1707-1778), was a Swedish botanist zoologist and physician who formalized the modern system of naming organisms. “It's a good time to celebrate biodiversity, scientific discovery, and museum collections,” Yang said.
In addition, talented Bohart student associates have crafted downloadable coloring pages for the family craft activity.
The Bohart also has pre-recorded tours linked to its website http://bohart.ucdavis.edu/
And timely, too!
While many folks are panicking about the first detected (and destroyed) colony of Asian giant hornets, aka “murder hornets,” in North America, three entomologists have just published research on this and the 21 other known species of hornets in the genus Vespa, in the journal Insect Systematics and Diversity.
The article, “The Diversity of Hornets in the Genus Vespa (Hymenoptera: Vespidae; Vespinae); Their Importance and Interceptions in the United States,” is the work of three entomologists: lead author Allan Smith-Pardo, U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS); and co-authors James Carpenter of the American Museum of Natural History's Division of Invertebrate Zoology, and Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis.
North America's first known colony of the Asian giant hornet, Vespa mandarinia, was detected (and, yes, destroyed) in September 2019 on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. A single V. mandarinia was found dead in Blaine, Wash., in December 2019.
“Hornet species identification can be sometimes difficult because of the amount of intraspecific color and size variation,” the authors wrote in their abstract. “This has resulted in many species-level synonyms, scattered literature, and taxonomic keys only useful for local populations. We present a key to the world species, information on each species, as well as those intercepted at United States ports of entry during the last decade.”
Vespa species are “primarily predators of other insects, and some species are known to attack and feed on honey bees (Apis mellifera), which makes them a serious threat to apiculture,” the authors wrote in their abstract.
In the USDA-funded research, the trio combed through scientific literature and museum collections to separate the species. They list their sources and offer insights on the distribution of each hornet, and a discussion.
The Asian giant hornet's distribution is India, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Malaya, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, eastern Russia, Korea, Japan (including Ryukyus), the authors wrote.
The Bohart Museum of Entomology, home of a global collection of nearly eight million insect specimens, houses 20 specimens of V. mandarinia. The largest one, a queen, measures about an inch and a half long, Kimsey said.
“Insects introduced in the United States often come in cargo boxes from Asia to U.S. ports, establish colonies, and expand their range,” she said.
The only known European hornet to colonize the United States is Vespa crabro, introduced on the East Coast in the 1800s. “It is now fully established in the southeastern U.S,” Kimsey said. “A decade or more ago, there was a colony of another species, Vespa asiatica, reported near the Port of Long Beach but nothing ever came of that.”
What's next for the research team? "We will be continuing to create online identification tools and a detailed website," Kimsey said.
"From 2010 to 2018, there have been close to 50 interceptions of Vespa (hornets) and Vespula (yellow jackets (Vespula) at U.S. ports of entry. Little less than half of those interceptions were hornets. The Vespa species intercepted include V. bellicosa, V. crabro, V. orientalis, V. mandarinia, and V. tropica. One of the interceptions of significance was an entire nest of V. mandarinia containing live brood and pupae that was sent via express courier from Asia. All species of Vespa, except V. crabro, which is already introduced into the eastern United States, are considered of quarantine importance by the USDA-APHIS."
A website, Invasive Hornets, part of a cooperation between the USDA, Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) and the University of Georgia, is taking shape. According to the journal article: "This website contains more than 1,000 stacked, high-quality images of all the species and most of the races of the genus Vespa. It is important to have the resources for the identification and prevention of introduction of non-native species and to understand the potential effects of invasive hornets in our ecosystems. Hornets are dangerous for the beekeeping industry because they can alter pollination in agriculture and disrupt the beekeeping industry, as well as create public health and safety problem."
The authors credited senior museum scientists Christine Lebeau of the American Museum of Natural History and Steve Heydon of the Bohart Museum of Entomology “for helping to process the loan of Vespa material.” Mary Burns of the National Identification Services (NIS) of the USDA-APHIS- Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) provided information about the number of interceptions of Vespa at U.S. ports of entry.
In an article posted in Entomology Today, science writer-educator Leslie Mertz wrote that the team is "building a publicly available, online adjunct to the newly published key that uses menus of distinguishing characteristics, as well as illustrations and photographs. They hope to have the online key up and running in 2021.”
The larvae and pupae of the Asian giant hornet taste like French fries.
So says UC Davis-trained entomologist Matan Shelomi, assistant professor of entomology at the National Taiwan University in Taipei, Taiwan, whose course on “Edible Insects” is the largest in his department.
Shelomi, a graduate of Harvard University, holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Davis, where he studied with major professor Lynn Kimsey, who directs the Bohart Museum of Entomology and serves as a professor of entomology in the Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Shelomi recently posted an intriguing comment on the Facebook page, Is This a Murder Hornet?
“More like delicious hornet," he wrote.
Asian giant hornets, sensationally nicknamed “murder hornets” by non-entomologists, continue to grab front-page headlines. The first colony detected (and eradicated) in North America occurred last September on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Then a single a dead one was found in Blaine, Wash., in December.
The world's largest hornets (they can measure approximately 2 inches in length), they attack and kill honey bees and feed the remains to their young. They can decimate a hive. Thus, beekeepers worry that AGH will invade North America, become established, and cripple the apiculture industry. The Washington State Department of Agriculture and Washington State University Extension are asking residents to keep a lookout for them and report any sightings. (See WSU Extension Fact Sheet.)
The newly acquired nickname, "murder hornet," triggers fear. But amid the panic, terror and near hysteria, it's important to point out that there is NO national invasion and they are NOT coming for us.
This insect was previously known as the Asian giant hornet or AGH before the BBC, the New York Times and other media labeled it "the murder hornet.”
UC Davis distinguished professor Walter Leal, who studied and worked in Japan, and speaks Japanese, says someone's mistranslation of Japanese research led to “yellow” translated as “killer.” Leal told us: "The Asian giant hornet, Vespa mandarinia, is called “Kiiro Suzume Bachi (キイロスズメバチ)” in Japanese. It injects its venoms, sometimes inducing severe anaphylaxis. The translation is incorrect. Kiiro means yellow, but it was translated as “killer.”
Indeed, the BBC report on May 4 managed to insert "coronavirus," "murder hornets" and "terror" in the same sentence. The lede: “Even as the US remains under attack from the coronavirus outbreak, a new terror has arrived: 'murder hornets.'"
Not "murder" hornets to Matan Shelomi: "Delicious hornets."
On the newly created Facebook page dispelling the myths and misinformation about the giant hornet, Shelomi posted photos of Vespa mandarinia larvae and pupae dishes, "raw and fried, from a small restaurant in Hualien in eastern Taiwan. You can also find it in the Huaxi night market in Taipei, if it's in season.”
“Several bee and wasp species have edible brood, which can be fried, steamed, roasted, cooked with soy and sugar, or eaten raw,” Shelomi wrote. “Even honey bee brood is edible! While it's not exactly commonplace, Asian giant hornet has been or is still consumed in parts of China, Japan, Taiwan, and northeastern India." (Source: "Edible Insects of the World" by Jun Mitsuhashi)
“To get the brood, you must harvest the nest. ‘Isn't that dangerous,' you ask? Yes, in the same way extracting honey is dangerous. Stay safe by collecting at night when they are resting, using smoke to pacify them, and wearing protective clothing. To find the nests of edible wasps, Japanese harvesters tie a cotton ball to a piece of fish meat and present it to a female wasp. She will carry it home, and you can follow her to find the nest! That's a bit harder with the giant hornet, as they can travel 2km on their foraging runs. They are not exactly rare in East Asia [for now], so those in the know can find nests easily. A helpful trick is to harvest the adults first. At night, knock down the nest, put a big bowl of rice wine in front of the entrance, and shine a bright light. The wasps get stunned by the light and fall into the wine. You can then harvest the adults and steep them in wine to make a medicinal alcohol, and take the brood as a snack. Who's murdering who now!"
“In case you were wondering, fried murder hornet tastes like French fries: if you can eat a potato, you can eat a pupa. That said, if you are allergic to shellfish, you may also be allergic to insects and should not consume them."
“Oh, and insects cannot get any coronaviruses, so don't worry about that either. Save a pangolin; eat a wasp."
Shelomi's post prompted Facebook member Geevee Snow of Brooklyn, N.Y., to comment: “My stomach just growled.”
And well they should.
UC Davis wasp expert and researcher Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, called the name "ridiculous" and said "it's no more likely to sting and kill a human than a honey bee." (See Bug Squad blog)
Kimsey, a two-term past president of the International Society of Hymenopterists, told us yesterday that “Actually it's less likely, as honey bee venom packs quite a punch and it is exclusively designed to defend against vertebrates."
“The colony everyone is hyperventilating over was actually found on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, last September when it was destroyed and then a single, dead hornet was found in December in Blaine, Wash.,” Kimsey said. “There is no evidence that there are any more hornets in the vicinity of Vancouver or anywhere else on the West Coast.”
A colony of the Asian giant hornet (AGH), Vespa mandarinia, was found and destroyed Sept. 18, 2019 in Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, and the single dead hornet was found Dec. 8, 2019 in Blaine.
These were the first detections of this species in North America, and no, the so-called "murder hornets" are not out to get us. They're not out to kill you. They're not taking over the world. (Expect some upcoming horror movies, though!)
Twenty Asian giant hornet (AGH) specimens are housed in the Bohart Museum of Entomology, home of a global collection of nearly 8 million species. The largest AGH, a queen, measures about an inch and a half long, Kimsey said. She's never seen any larger than that.
Meanwhile, entomologists are bemoaning the name, "murder hornet" and the sensationalism and fear-mongering ensuing. Apparently the name originated with a Japanese researcher; out of the translation came "murder hornet."
“It's a bloody dumpster fire,” said entomology advocate, traveler and photographer Stephane De Greef, administrator of a newly created Facebook page, “Is This a Murder Hornet?”
“Some poorly-worded media reports about Asian giant hornets have triggered a veritable avalanche of nonsense online, but I can help set the record straight, wrote senior museum scientist and hymenopterist Douglas Yanega of UC Riverside Entomology Research Museum.
“One colony was found and exterminated in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island in September of 2019, with a few sightings associated,” Yanega wrote. “One wasp believed to be from that colony was found--dead--on the U.S. side of the border near Nanaimo in December. Right now, all the authorities are doing is asking people to keep their eyes peeled JUST IN CASE there were queens that escaped the destruction of the Nanaimo nest, and established their own nests nearby. I was one of the authorities brought in to consult on this case, and to my knowledge there have not been any sightings in 2020 that would suggest the eradication attempt was unsuccessful. Put bluntly, as far as we know, there are no Asian giant hornets alive in either the U.S. or Canada as of 2020, and if there are, then they would be in the immediate vicinity of Vancouver Island (about a 50 mile radius or so).”
Want to know more about them? Read the fact sheet published by Washington State University Extension. It's the work of the husband-wife team of Susan Cobey, bee breeder-geneticist and Timothy Lawrence, county director of Island County Extension (both formerly of UC Davis), and also Mike Jensen, county director of Pend Oreille. (See https://bit.ly/2SA3TxS)
“It is critical that we identify, trap, and attempt to eliminate this new pest before it becomes established and widespread,” they wrote. “Attempts to contain the spread and eradication of this invasive insect will be most effective in trapping queens during early spring before their nests become established. Finding the nests can be a bit of a challenge. Their nests are typically in the ground though they can also be found under overhangs and within wall voids. The AGH is a strong flier and often will fly up and away and have an extensive flight range. Thus tracking can be difficult.”
They advise residents to “proceed with extreme caution and contact WSDA immediately. Do not try to exterminate the nest yourself.”
The sensationalism on the media is a concern, said Lawrence, "but...we need to find out just how extensive this infestation is."
Facebook users are posting images of so-called Asian giant hornets that are actually such species as cicada killers, European hornets, southern yellow jacket queens, sawflies, hoverflies, a beetle, and even a moth.
“Yes, it is possible this species could establish,” wrote Sloan Tomlinson, a parasitoid wasp specialist and educator. “Has it yet? No. Until concrete evidence is presented about any further establishment by this species, it's simply conjecture. Additionally, even IF this species is established, their infamy is overhyped and sensationalized. In Japan they do indeed kill around 30 people a year. Around 40 people are killed annually in the US by domestic dogs.”
Doctoral candidate and researcher Ellie Field of Iowa State University wrote on Facebook that “the murder hornet articles are making the rounds quickly and they seem to be doing more harm than good. Yes, it is awesome to track insect populations (particularly staying watchful for non-native and potentially invasive species). But no, the Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia) is not going to destroy America. The one nest and individual that was found around Vancouver last year was destroyed, and this doesn't indicate any establishment. Introduction events happen all the time, all across the world! That region should continue to keep a watchful eye, but for everyone else this is not going to be relevant. There is no invasion, just a small possibility that some may have overwintered in that area.”
Those unsure about insect identification can email an image to Lynn Kimsey at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact the Entomological Society of America at https://www.entsoc.org/ or https://bit.ly/2W2jRmi.
Meanwhile, they're trying to douse the "bloody dumpster fires."
(Update: UC Davis distinguished professor Walter Leal, who studied and worked in Japan, asked a Japanese friend today about the origin of "murder hornet": The Asian giant hornet, Vespa mandarinia, is called “Kiiro Suzume Bachi (キイロスズメバチ)” in Japanese. It injects its venoms, sometimes inducing severe anaphylaxis. The article in BBC introduced Asian giant hornet, Vespa mandarinia as “murder hornet” is at https://www.bbc.com/news/52533