Vespa mandarinia is a hornet species that is native to eastern Asia where they are commonly referred to as “Asian giant hornets” due to their status as the largest hornets in the world. Not long ago, these hornets were discovered in the US for the first time in history, and since then, media reports in the country have described these insects as bloodthirsty killers. Experts state that these hornets arrived in the northwest US by hitchhiking within shipping materials aboard cargo ships. American media outlets, particularly social media websites, have exaggerated the danger posed by Asian giant hornets, even going as far to dub the insects “murder hornets.” Unsurprisingly, many entomologists, biologists and other experts have taken issue with this depiction, and some have attempted to quell the widespread fear that sensational media reports have inspired about this species’ presence in the country. For example, experts are quick to point out that Asian giant hornets are not motivated to attack humans without provocation, and they are actually much like native yellow jackets and bald-faced hornets in that they will not sting humans unless their nest becomes disturbed.

Much like several yellow jacket species in the US, Asian giant hornets establish nesting burrows in the ground, usually in cavities that were previously excavated by rodents. The seasonal development and physical appearance of Asian giant hornets is similar to that of North American yellow jackets and bald-faced hornets. However, the foraging range of Asian giant hornets is much smaller than the foraging range of native wasp species in the US, so if Asian giant hornets do spread beyond the northwest, their spread will be relatively slow and easy to track. This makes Asian giant hornets much less of a threat than other exotic stinging insect species that have spread throughout the country in the past, such as Africanized honey bees (AKA killer bees). Due to their large size, Asian giant hornets require substantial amounts of food to survive and spread, and locating adequate food sources in the US will likely be difficult for this species. Many experts state that their food sources are largely limited to other bee species, which are hard to come by in the US, but this does raise the concern that Asian giant hornets will prey on common honey bees that are raised in apiaries. This could be disastrous, as the number of honey bees has already declined substantially in the US and elsewhere, but Americans should worry more about the danger posed by native yellow jackets and other wasps, rather than the very few Asian giant hornets that have been spotted in one small region of North America.

Have you been concerned about the possible spread of Asian giant hornets?