Since 2020 has become the year of the so called “murder hornet,” homeowners throughout the country have been extra mindful of the airborne insects buzzing around their homes. Before this species was spotted in Washington last December, it was commonly known as the “Asian giant hornet” (Vespa mandarinia) and very few experts expected the exotic species to appear in the US. Many people living throughout the country have been hoping for, or fearing an encounter with these truly dangerous hornets all year despite the fact that Washington entomologists struggled for months just to capture a single specimen in the state.
University entomologists have received numerous insect specimens in the mail from residents in just about every state, each one of whom had likely hoped to be the first to capture a confirmed murder hornet specimen in the country. Unsurprisingly, all of the specimens submitted were identified as other species that have long inhabited the US, the most common of which were large wasp species like native cicada killers and non-native, but well established European hornets.
The non-native European hornet is the only true hornet species that can be found in the US, and no hornet species is native to North America. In the murder hornet’s native Asian habitat range, the species lives up to its most recently acquired nickname, but for the time being, the yellow jacket wasps that forage in US neighborhoods during the late summer and early fall seasons pose a much greater public health threat than murder hornets.
According to Jennifer Jandt, a zoologist at the University of Otago in New Zealand, if a few yellow jackets descend upon a picnic or cookout, the pests should not be bothered; instead, let them do their investigating in peace until they leave. However, if a large number of yellow jackets appear, a nest was likely disturbed, which is how most medically serious wasp envenomation cases start. Jandt also states that anyone who disturbs a yellow jacket nest is likely to sustain at least ten stings while running in the other direction, but luckily, the amount of venom delivered into the bloodstream by ten yellow jacket stings is not sufficiently toxic to result in a fatality. That being said, one yellow jacket sting can be fatal to those with venom allergies.
Do you think that murder hornets will become established in the US?