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It’s a murder hornet — only if you’re a bee

Last December, the Washington State Department of Agriculture confirmed for the first time the presence of the Asian giant hornets (Vespa mandarinia) in the United States. They were found in northwest Washington State and also in neighboring British Columbia.

The Asian giant hornet is the largest hornet in the world. As its name implies, it is native to Asia, found primarily in Japan, Korea and China.

It is not known how the AGH arrived in Washington, but international shipping is the prime suspect.

WSDA describes the insect as being 1 1/2 to 2 inches long, with a large orange head, large eyes and a yellow striped abdomen.

Not long after its discovery, it acquired the name “murder hornet” that hyped up the insect’s presence. This name suggests that this hornet is out to get you.

But the AGH, like other hornets, wasps and bees, does not hunt people to sting them. It will sting to defend itself or its nest. If left alone, it has no interest in people.

If provoked, the AGH will deliver a painful sting and it can sting repeatedly. And while the stinger on the AGH is larger than most hornets, it’s venom is not more toxic. Like the stings from other wasps and bees, the sting from the AGH is most dangerous to people allergic to stings.

So why is it called the murder hornet? Probably because of what it does to honeybees.

The hornet is famous for its devastating attacks on honeybee colonies. A swarm of these hornets can destroy a large bee colony of up to 30,000 bees in only a few hours.

The hornets decapitate and dismember the bees during the attack. Once the attack is over, the hornets carry away the bee body parts and the bees’ pupae and larvae back to their own colony. The killed bees, along with the bee pupae and larvae, are used to feed the hornet’s growing larvae.

The hornets leave the honey behind.

Asian bees have developed a strategy to defend their colonies from AGH predators. They allow the scout hornet to enter their hive, then the bees surround the hornet and begin vibrating their flight muscles. This produces enough heat to kill the hornet.

Entomologists don’t know if our strain of honeybees have this ability.

If Asian giant hornets become established in the United States, they could be another threat to American honeybees. Eradication attempts are currently under way in the Northwest to prevent this from happening.

The AGH has not been found in Ohio. But Ohio is home to three large insects that are sometimes mistaken for the Asian giant hornet. These are the bald-faced hornet, giant or European hornet and the cicada killer.

Of these three, only the non-native European hornet is an actual hornet. The bald-faced hornet is really a type of yellowjacket. It typically makes it’s nest of 100 to 400 workers above ground.

The giant hornet is native to Europe. It was first identified in New York in the 1840s.

At more than 1 1/2 inches long, the cicada killer is the largest of the three. They are solitary insects and do not build colonies like the other two. Their life cycle it timed to match its prey, the annual cicada, that emerges during the dog days of summer.

For more information and pictures on all these hornets and wasps, visit go.osu.edu/murderhornet.

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