2020 is beginning to seem a bit cursed. Our recent headlines have been a bit doom and gloom, first a global pandemic, then increasing quarantines and shutdowns, then desperate koalas, and so much more. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise that we now have something new to worry about, “murder hornets”. As the name suggests, these insects are far from cute and cuddly. They look, and act, like insectoid assassins. Measuring nearly 2 inches in length, a single murder hornet, more scientifically called Asian Giant Hornets, can kill 40 honeybees every minute, and they are determined to do so.
Even more disturbing, the murder hornet’s preferred method of murder is beheading. Murder hornets hunt honey bees as food, destroying their prey’s heads and then taking the bodies back to hornet hives to feed the queen. Their stings are also astonishingly painful to humans and in some cases can penetrate standard-rating beekeeping suits. Multiple stings can even kill humans, even if they are not allergic. As terrifying as the murder hornet is for humans, it is even more terrifying for honey bees. Bee populations are already in decline, so this new invasion of anti-bee assassins is particularly worrying for the future of their species.
Nevertheless, honey bees are not totally defenseless. Be warned, the following description may be disturbing to some people. In the face of invading murder hornets, bees have developed an unusual defense: cooking. When a murder hornet attacks, bees lure the invaders into the hive and then swarm them, enclosing them in a vibrating ball of thousands of bees. Bees have a higher temperature tolerance than the hornets, so the heat created by the vibrating bee ball cooks the hornets alive, saving the hive.Murder hornets were spotted in the US for the first time on May 4 in Washington state. The insects are native to Eastern Asia, although their territory now covers a variety of countries around the world. It is unclear how the terrifying insects first entered this country, but it is possible that they came from Canada as a hive was recently spotted there. Reports from Washington state were scattered and inconsistent at first, and while agricultural officials attempted to capture all the specimens to prevent an outbreak of murder hornets, it is unlikely that they succeeded. These pests are incredibly invasive and dangerous to the delicate native honey bee populations. By threatening pollinators like the honey bees, they also pose a danger to thousands of species of flowers and other plants. While it is unlikely that murder hornets will arrive in Michigan anytime soon, if you do spot one do not attempt to catch it, as they can be deadly. Instead, report the sighting to local authorities immediately. It is very important that scientists who are attempting to stop the spread of murder hornets are able to keep track of exactly where they have been sighted. Learn more about murder hornets at https://agr.wa.gov/departments/insects-pests-and-weeds/insects/hornets.