“Murder Hornets”—Invasion of the Bee Snatchers?

Vespa mandarinia, the killer bee

The very name is enough to strike fear into the heart of any bee: “Murder Hornet”! Are we facing the entomological equivalent of an alien invasion? Or can we collectively shrug and go back to watching Tiger King? In the world of bees, the Vespa mandarinia (Asian giant hornet) needs no hype. It is huge in comparison to bees and it’s mandibles are razor sharp. It’s not just bees that are in the danger zone. One Canadian beekeeper recalls the sting of a “murder hornet” as “like having red-hot thumbtacks being driven into my flesh.” Ouch.

Bees in North America were already having a tough time before the unexpected appearance of the invasive giant hornets (who likely arrived via cargo ship from Japan, where “murder hornets” kill about 40–50 people a year.) The decline of wild bee populations in the United States and around the world is well documented. Threats include negative effects of climate change, intensive agriculture, pesticide use, habitat loss, reduced biodiversity, and pollution.

Everyone knows that bees make honey, and most know something about the role bees play in pollinating flowers. But the sheer scale of this natural phenomenon—and its vital connection to human flourishing—generally escapes our notice. It goes without saying that bees are, well, busy: they pollinate about one in six flowering plant species worldwide. In addition, bees contribute to the pollination of hundreds of agricultural plants worth billions of dollars to the U.S. economy alone. Each year billions of bees are trucked to the almond orchards of California’s Central Valley.

Then along came the dastardly “murder hornets,” which are threatening to stake a niche in the ecosystem of the Pacific Northwest. If they were to succeed, they could imperil bee populations in Washington State and throughout North America, and through them the food supply of human beings, among other animals. In response, scientists are in a race to track and trap the hornets, before any hope of eradicating them is lost.

Image credit: ©AyhanTuranMenekay/Shutterstock

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