The "Murder Hornet" May Not Be Such A Big Deal After All

May 6, 2020

The Asian giant hornet can be up to two inches long.
Credit Yasunori Koide via Wikimedia Commons ( Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International)

An invasive species of insect, commonly referred to as the "murder hornet," has been spotted in Washington state and British Columbia. Its actual name is the Asian giant hornet and it's known to decimate whole hives of honeybees.

 It also has a long stinger that delivers an incredibly painful sting.

Many people have become concerned that the hornet will spread across the U.S., but University of Wyoming entomologist Scott Schell said he disagrees.

"If you live in that area, and you were, especially, a beekeeper, it could be very damaging. But so many of the invasive insects can be problematic. As far as our region, I don't think it is a threat," said Schell.

According to Schell, the insect may spread along the coast, but the Mountain West is likely too high and dry for the hornets to establish.

"In Asia where they're found, they're found in wetter, low elevation areas from temperate down to subtropical. So I'd say wetter, warmer and more lush, is the kind of habitat that they like," said Scott. "That kind of explains why they've been able to establish in British Columbia and parts of Washington state. They'd probably be on the wet side of the Cascades rather than the dry side."

The Asian giant hornet's lifestyle doesn't make it a good hitchhiker, so it's unlikely it can be spread by someone unknowingly. Another common concern is that the hornets will decimate honeybee populations, but according to Schell, they aren't likely to.

"They probably could take out some colonies of bees. They're not real abundant in habitats, even good habitats for them. And compared to the other problems that honeybees have, [they're] not a significant threat. They could take out a hive, but it wouldn't be widespread, hive after hive," said Schell.

But invasive species can still cause problems, and efforts are underway in Washington to remove the Asian giant hornet before it possibly spreads farther along the coast.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Ivy Engel, at iengel@uwyo.edu.