What is a Murder Hornet?

If you’ve been wondering with us for a while, you may have learned about how bees select their queens. You might be familiar with the process of mud dauber wasps constructing their nests. Perhaps you have even read about ways to avoid encountering a scorpion in the desert. Today’s Wonder of the Day focuses on another creature that possesses a potent sting. That’s right, we are referring to the murder hornet!

The name may sound intimidating. How much of a threat do murder hornets pose to humans? Well, their stings are certainly painful. After all, their stingers measure a quarter of an inch in length. They are even capable of penetrating beekeeping equipment! Unlike honeybees, murder hornets are able to sting multiple times.

However, most experts agree that the majority of people have little to fear from murder hornets. That is why they prefer to use the term “Asian giant hornets.” These insects do not attack humans unless they feel threatened. Individuals who have been stung describe the experience as highly painful. Nevertheless, the hornets only pose a serious danger to individuals who are allergic to their venom.

Just how “giant” are these Asian giant hornets? Growing up to two inches in size, they are the largest hornets on the planet. In addition to their sizable stingers, these insects are also capable of biting their victims.

The scientific name for Asian giant hornets is Vespa mandarinia. They are commonly found in Asia, where they can be observed as far north as Russia and as far south as Thailand. They are not indigenous to North America. However, sightings of Asian giant hornets in North America began in late 2019.

Are you wondering how the nickname “murder hornet” originated? After all, these insects do not seem to pose a significant threat to humans. However, the situation is different for bees. It is the Asian giant hornets’ aggressive attacks on honeybees in particular that earned them the nickname.

Typically, Asian giant hornets hunt individually. However, when they encounter a beehive, this changes. They release a pheromone that attracts other murder hornets to the location. Together, they launch an assault on the hive. They decapitate bees using their mandibles and then transport the larvae back to their own nests for consumption.

In Asia, bee species have developed strategies to defend against Asian giant hornets. When they detect the hornet’s pheromone, female worker bees prepare for a counterattack. If a hornet enters the hive, the bees swarm around it and beat their wings. This raises the temperature in the hive and produces carbon dioxide, eventually causing the intruder’s demise.

However, North American bees have never encountered murder hornets before and do not possess knowledge on how to defend themselves. This has caused concern among many individuals. The honeybee population has already experienced a decline in recent years, and some fear that the presence of Asian giant hornets could exacerbate the problem.

How can people assist in protecting the bees? Beekeepers can begin by placing hornet traps at the entrances of beehives. They may also attempt using baited traps, which can capture Asian giant hornets before they reach the hive. In Asia, some beekeepers even employ individuals to fend off the hornets using tennis rackets.

What are some ways to protect a beehive from the Asian giant hornet? Have you ever encountered one? If you happen to see this insect, it’s important to keep your distance! While their stings are not usually fatal, they can be extremely painful.

Give it a try

Find an adult who can assist you in continuing your learning with the activities listed below!

  • Take a look at these images of the Asian giant hornet. How can you distinguish this insect from others? What sets it apart from other hornets, bees, and wasps? Summarize what you’ve learned for a friend or family member to help them identify a murder hornet if they come across one.
  • Which insects are native to your area? Grab a piece of paper and a pencil, and head outside! Create a list of the insects you observe. Then, choose one to delve deeper into. Jot down a list of questions you have about the chosen insect. Afterwards, ask a friend or family member to help you find answers online or at your local library.
  • Can’t get enough information about bugs? Check out these 14 peculiar insects. Select the three that captivate you the most, and create a poster to educate others about them. Include at least one image and one fascinating fact about each insect you choose.

Sources of Wonder

  • https://www.popsci.com/story/animals/murder-hornet-bee/ (accessed 11 May 2020)
  • https://www.healthline.com/health-news/do-we-really-have-to-worry-about-murder-hornets-now#The-bottom-line (accessed 11 May 2020)
  • https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/invasion-murder-hornets-180974809/ (accessed 11 May 2020)
  • https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/just-how-dangerous-is-the-murder-hornet/?amp=true (accessed 11 May 2020)


1. What is a Murder Hornet?

A Murder Hornet, also known as the Asian Giant Hornet or Vespa mandarinia, is a large and aggressive species of hornet native to Asia. It is the world’s largest hornet, measuring about 1.5 to 2 inches in length. The name “Murder Hornet” comes from its predatory behavior, as it can decimate entire honeybee colonies within hours. These hornets are known for their powerful stinger, which contains a potent venom that can be fatal to humans, especially if an individual is allergic.

2. Where are Murder Hornets found?

Murder Hornets are primarily found in Eastern Asia, particularly in Japan, South Korea, and China. However, in recent years, there have been sightings of these hornets in other parts of the world, including the United States and Canada. It is believed that these hornets were inadvertently introduced to North America through shipping containers or other means of transportation.

3. How dangerous are Murder Hornets to humans?

Murder Hornets are considered a significant threat to humans, although they generally do not seek out human confrontation unless provoked. Their venom contains a powerful neurotoxin that can cause severe pain, swelling, and in some cases, allergic reactions. While deaths caused by Murder Hornets are rare, they can occur, especially in individuals who are allergic to their venom. It is important to exercise caution and seek medical attention if stung by a Murder Hornet.

4. What impact do Murder Hornets have on ecosystems?

Murder Hornets have a significant impact on ecosystems, particularly in their native range. They are known to prey on honeybees, which are crucial pollinators for many plant species. A single Murder Hornet can kill dozens of honeybees within minutes, and a small group of hornets can decimate an entire honeybee colony. This has serious implications for agriculture and food production, as many crops rely on honeybees for pollination.

5. How are Murder Hornets controlled?

Efforts to control Murder Hornets involve a combination of surveillance, trapping, and extermination. In areas where these hornets have been detected, entomologists set up traps baited with pheromones to attract and capture them. Once captured, the hornets are euthanized and studied to gather information about their behavior and habits. Additionally, public awareness campaigns are conducted to educate people about the threats posed by Murder Hornets and how to report sightings.

6. Can Murder Hornets be eradicated?

While eradicating Murder Hornets entirely may be challenging, efforts are being made to control their population and prevent their spread. Early detection and rapid response are crucial in containing these invasive species. By implementing effective surveillance and control measures, it is possible to minimize the impact and protect vulnerable ecosystems and pollinators from the destructive effects of Murder Hornets.

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