Should we now worry about those Asian giant hornets becoming residents of our Golden State?
Kimsey, a global authority on wasps, bees and other insects, is a two-term past president of the International Society of Hymenopterists. She recently co-authored “The Diversity of Hornets in the Genus Vespa (Hymenoptera: Vespidae; Vespinae); Their Importance and Interceptions in the United States” in the journal Insect Systematics and Diversity with two other entomologists: lead author Allan Smith-Pardo, U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS); and James Carpenter of the American Museum of Natural History's Division of Invertebrate Zoology.
The latest news: the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) announced Oct. 24 that a nest was discovered and destroyed in a tree cavity near Blaine, Wash. This marked Washington's first known nest of Vespa mandarinia. North America's first detected colony of the giant hornets was destroyed in September 2019 on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. A single V. mandarinia was found dead in Blaine, Wash., in December 2019.
But to worry. The hornet won't like California's hot, dry summers and lack of rainfall.
As Kimsey told reporter Kellie Hwang of the San Francisco Chronicle: "It is exceedingly unlikely that these hornets can establish in California. If you look at where they're found in their native range in southern Asia, this region has summer rain. I think California is too dry, except perhaps along the far northern coast.”
Washington State University (WSU) entomologists and their colleagues agree. They recently "examined more than 200 records from the hornet's native range in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, then used a set of ecological models incorporating climate data to predict likely global habitat across six continents," according to a WSU news release.
They found that "Asian giant hornets are most likely to thrive in places with warm summers, mild winters, and high rainfall. Extreme heat is lethal, so their most suitable habitats are in regions with a maximum temperature of 102 degrees Fahrenheit. Based on those factors, suitable habitat for the giant hornet exists along much of the U.S. west and east coasts, adjacent parts of Canada, much of Europe, northwestern and southeastern South America, central Africa, eastern Australia, and most parts of New Zealand."
"Much of the interior of the U.S. is inhospitable to the hornet due to extremes of heat, cold, and low rainfall," the news release related. "This includes the eastern parts of Washington state and British Columbia, as well as California's Central Valley, all of which have major fruit and nut crops that rely on honey bee pollination."
Scientists dislike the sensationalized name "murder hornets" (so named because insects can quickly destroy a honey bee colony). The insects defend their colony when it is threatened, but generally will not attack people or pets, according to WSDA. The fear is there, though. "Their stinger is longer than that of a honeybee and their venom is more toxic," WSDA says. "They can also sting repeatedly."
But "murder hornets?"
Maybe we should just call them "giant hornets," you think?
Remember the massive media frenzy earlier this year when "the murder hornet" became a household word? The media labeled it that, but let's call it AGH. It's a hornet, not some weaponized insect with super powers that belongs in a B-rated movie seen at a Saturday matinee. Drop the drink! Hold the popcorn!
The peer-reviewed publication is the work of two former UC Davis entomologists now with WSU: honey bee geneticist-researcher Susan Cobey, research associate, Department of Entomology, and Timothy Lawrence, associate professor and Island County Extension director (they are a husband-wife team), along with Michael Jensen, associate professor and Pend Oreille County Extension director.
The first four paragraphs zero in on what this is all about:
"The Asian giant hornet (AGH) or Japanese giant hornet, Vespa mandarinia, recently found in British Columbia, Canada, (B. C. Ministry of Agriculture 2019) and in Washington State (McGann 2019), poses a significant threat to European honey bee (EHB), Apis mellifera, colonies and is a public health issue. The AGH is the world's largest species of hornet (Figure 1; Ono et al. 2003), native to temperate and tropical low mountains and forests of eastern Asia (Matsuura 1991). It appears the hornet is well adapted to conditions in the Pacific Northwest.
"If this hornet becomes established, it will have a severe and damaging impact on the honey bee population, the beekeeping industry, the environment, public health, and the economy. It is critical that we identify, trap, and attempt to eliminate this new pest before it becomes established and widespread. Attempts to contain the spread and eradication of this invasive insect will be most effective by trapping queens during early spring before their nests become established. Another strategy is to locate and destroy nests prior to development of virgin queens and drones in the late summer and fall.
"It is critical that surveying and trapping occur before the fall reproductive and dispersal phase of the hornet. Beekeepers in the field are a crucial line of defense in locating, identifying, and trapping the hornets. Yet, everyone should be on the lookout and report any sightings to local authorities and the Washington State Department of Agriculture.
"Here, we will cover how the AGH will impact the honey bee, give the reader a better understanding of the hornet, outline precautions to take, and first aid if attacked by the hornet."
The fact sheet provides crucial information, including what the public and beekeepers need to know, how to trap the hornets, where to report sightings, and information about the life cycle, the stinger, avoidance, and first aid. It details the public health issue and defines "What is a hornet?"
We've heard folks argue that AGH is a "hornet, not a wasp." Noted hymenopterist Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis, points out that hornets ARE wasps.
WSU Extension defines a hornet this way:
"A hornet is simply a large wasp. Generally, wasps of the class or genus known as Vespa are considered hornets. Interestingly, there are no true hornets (Vespa) native to North America. The European hornet (Vespa crabro) is well established in much of the eastern half of the United States. The European hornet is not a major threat to honey bees."
"Hornets are part of a large order of insects known as Hymenoptera that include bees, wasps, ants, and sawflies. Worldwide, there are more than 115,000 species belonging to the order Hymenoptera (Hunt and Toth 2017). Most of this group of insects are beneficial for pollination and pest control. There are two types of hornets, solitary and social (Lee et al. 2016). Solitary hornets hunt various insects and spiders. Their 'stinger' is primarily used to paralyze their prey. They often lay an egg on the immobilized victim, and when the egg hatches, the larvae consume the still-living host. Solitary wasps generally do not sting humans and usually are not aggressive unless provoked."
"Social wasps, on the other hand, do use their stingers to defend their nests and can be very aggressive and will readily sting. The most common social wasp in the United States is the yellowjacket. The four most common yellowjacket species in Washington are the western yellowjacket (Paravespula pensylvanica), the common yellowjacket (Paravespula vulgaris), the aerial yellowjacket (Dolichovespula arenaria), and the German yellowjacket (Paravespula germanica) (Berry and Mooney 1998; Landolt and Antonelli 2003)."
"The recently introduced Asian giant hornet (AGH) is also a social wasp. When foraging for food in spring, the AGH ;is not highly aggressive—unless its nest is disturbed. Late summer and fall, with the high demand for protein, they become very aggressive when attacking or occupying a honey bee colony."
AGH appeared in the news last month when the Washington State Department of Agriculture announced it had trapped aVespa mandarinia near Birch Bay in Whatcom County. It was trapped July 14 and identified during processing on July 29. "This was the first hornet to be detected in a trap, rather than found in the environment as the state's five previous confirmed sightings were," according to the news release.
"Because the number of Asian giant hornet workers increases as a colony develops, residents should be most likely to see an Asian giant hornet in August and September," the news release related. "If you think you have seen one, report it at agr.wa.gov/hornets. Provide as much detail as you can about what you saw and where. Also, include a photo if you can safely obtain one, and if you come across a dead specimen keep it for potential testing. You can visit WSDA's website at agr.wa.gov/hornets to learn more about Asian giant hornets. You can also submit questions the WSDA Pest Program at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-800-443-6684."
At least we never saw a 64-point bold, all-capped, World War II-sized newspaper headline that screamed "MURDER HORNET TRAPPED!"
But some of the misidentifications of Vespa mandarinia flowing in are incredible. Check out Stephane de Greef's Facebook page on "Is This a Murder Hornet?" The latest one spotlighted is a...wait for it...beetle.
Just when folks were beginning to think "it may be over and done" regarding Asian giant hornet sightings, it's not.
The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) has just trapped its first Asian giant hornet, Vespa mandarinia, which the news media dubbed "the murder hornet." (It's a name that makes entomologists cringe.)
In a news release published July 31, officials announced that they found a hornet in a WSDA trap set near Birch Bay in Whatcom County. "WSDA trappers checked the bottle trap on July 14 and submitted the contents for processing at WSDA's entomology lab. The hornet was identified during processing on July 29. This was the first hornet to be detected in a trap, rather than found in the environment as the state's five previous confirmed sightings were."
Sven Spichiger, managing entomologist for the department, said: “This is encouraging because it means we know that the traps work. But it also means we have work to do."
So WSDA will now use infrared cameras and place additional traps in the area. These are special traps to catch them alive. From the press release: "If they catch live hornets, the department will attempt to tag and track them back to their colony. Once located, the agency will eradicate the colony."
"WSDA hopes to find and destroy the nest by mid-September before the colony would begin creating new reproducing queens and drones. Until that time, the colony will only contain the queen and worker Asian giant hornets. Destroying the nest before new queens emerge and mate will prevent the spread of this invasive pest."
All in all, WSDA, citizen scientists and others have set out more than 1300 traps in Washington state.
"Those interested in trapping can still build and set traps on their own property," according to the news release. "Traps require weekly bait replacement and a commitment to mail the trap contents to WSDA if bees or wasps are collected. If a citizen scientist traps a live Asian giant hornet, they should call the WSDA Pest Program hotline at 1-800-443-6684."
"Because the number of Asian giant hornet workers increases as a colony develops, residents should be most likely to see an Asian giant hornet in August and September. If you think you have seen one, report it at agr.wa.gov/hornets. Provide as much detail as you can about what you saw and where. Also, include a photo if you can safely obtain one, and if you come across a dead specimen keep it for potential testing."
Noted hymenopterist Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis, has been following the confirmed and unconfirmed sightings and recently talked about the Asian giant hornets on a podcast with urban entomologist Michael Bentley on his BugBytes podcast. Click here to listen.
Bentley serves as the director of training and education for the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), headquartered in Fairfax, Va., and hosts NPMA's BugBytes. Kimsey, a global authority on wasps, bees and other insects, is a two-term past president of the International Society of Hymenopterists.
They talked about the history of the hornet, its biology, its range, its behavior, its stings, and the news media frenzy.
What was known then: two incidents occurred in North America last year. A single colony of the Asian giant hornet was found and destroyed Sept. 18, 2019 in Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, Canada, and a single dead hornet was found Dec. 8, 2019 in nearby Blaine, Wash. Kimsey says they probably hitchhiked on a cargo ship,
Asian giant hornets, originating from Asia, can decimate a honey bee colony, and the Washington beekeeping industry is concerned that these invasive pests may become established here.
Meanwhile, many so-called "murder hornets" have turned out to be yellow jackets, European paper wasps, hover flies, hoverflies, moths, circadas and even a Jerusalem cricket (potato bug). Stephane De Greef, a Belgium-born entomology advocate, traveler, field guide, and photographer, earlier called the frenzy "a bloody dumpster fire." He launched a fun (and informative) Facebook page, Is This a Murder Hornet?" In a Facebook comment today, he pointed out that the findings are all within a 10-mile radius (see the map he posted below).
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.”
First there were the Africanized honey bees, which sensationalists called "the killer bees."
Don't even mention "assassin flies" or "bullet ants" or "deathwatch beetles."
Now there are the Asian giant hornets (AGH), Vespa mandarinia, which sensationalists have dubbed "murder hornets."
"It's ridiculous to call them murder hornets,” says noted 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.
“It's no more likely to sting and kill a human than a honey bee,” said Kimsey, a two-term past president of the International Society of Hymenopterists, an organization that studies bees, wasps, ants, and sawflies.
“Actually it's less likely, as honey bee venom packs quite a punch and it is exclusively designed to defend against vertebrates,” she said.
“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.”
These were the first detections of this species in North America, but there may be more, according to the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA). Beekeepers have reported “observations” (which may or may not be the same species) dating back to October 2019, according to officials in Washington State University's Department of Entomology and Cooperative Extension. They and the beekeeping organizations want to know what's out there and they want folks to keep a lookout for them.
Said Kimsey: “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 either. A European species, Vespa crabro, was introduced into the East Coast perhaps a century ago and it is now fully established in the southeastern U.S.”
Kimsey points out that insects often come in cargo boxes from Asia to U.S. ports, establish colonies, and expand their range.
A soon-to-be-published article in the Entomological Society of America's journal, Insect Systematics and Diversity, promises to shed more light on the genus and the history of introductions in the United States.Kimsey and colleagues Allanmith-Pardo of the USDA and James Carpenter of the America Museum of History, New York, co-authored the review article.
In the abstract, the authors define Vespa as social wasps that are “primarily predators of other insects, and some species are know to attack and feed on honey bees, Apis mellifera, which makes them a serious threat to apiculture.”
“Vespa nests can be physically large, with over 1,000 workers, but usually with hundreds of workers,” they wrote. “Nests can be aerial, attached to tree branches or in shrubs, in crevices, under eaves or underground depending on the species. Depending on the latitude, nests can be either annual, started by a new queen every spring, or perennial, where young queens take over from old ones. Colonies in warm tropical climates tend to be perennial.”
Washington State University (WSU) Extension recently published an AGH fact sheet, the work of three scientists: Susan Cobey, bee breeder-geneticist and husband Timothy Lawrence, county director of Island County Extension (both formerly of UC Davis), and Mike Jensen, county director of Pend Oreille. (See https://bit.ly/2SA3TxS)
Yes, hornets are huge. They measure about two inches long, and the queens can fly up to 20 miles per day, said Cobey, who examined specimens in Japan last December and shipped some of them to WSU.
The WSU scientists wrote that AGH “is the world's largest species of hornet, native to temperate and tropical Eastern Asia low mountains and forests. The hornet is well adapted to conditions in the Pacific Northwest.”
“The primary purpose of venom is defense against predators by inflicting pain and damage,” they wrote. ”Vespa mandarinia is one of the two most venomous known insects in the world.. The amount of venom each wasp delivers (4.1 μl/ wasp) has designated V. mandarinia as the most venomous insect. In comparison, the honey bee has about 0.6μl/bee. When foraging for food in spring, the AGH is not highly defensive – unless its nest is disturbed. Late summer and fall, with the high demand for protein, they become very aggressive when attacking or occupying a honey bee colony.”
“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.”
Entomologists call them Asian giant hornets or Vespa mandarinia.
Could we just go back to calling them Asian giant hornets or AGH or Vespa mandarina?