In the state of Washington, the first Asian giant hornet nest in 2021 was found close to where a hornet was spotted last week. The craze about “murder hornets” swarming the United States in recent years has grabbed the attention of millions across the world.
However, this insect should not be overlooked as just another crazy Internal trend, for scientists believe that murder hornets may cause more damage than we initially thought.
The murder hornet
Though aggressive to hikers and farmers, the hornets are actually served as a delicacy in the central Chubu region, where they are kept in jars and used as ingredients for a dish called hebo-gohan. The adult hornets become both a fried meal on skewers and an extra punch for liquor drinkers.
However, the murder hornet is still notorious for posing a threat to humans, attacking people with a shark fin-shaped stinger that can even penetrate a beekeeper’s suit. The venom released is powerful enough to kill a medium-sized rodent; for humans, the venom causes extraordinary pain, with one entomologist in Canada likening the stings to “having hot tacks pushed into my flesh.”
The Asian giant hornet is also called the murder hornet for claiming the lives of up to 50 people each year in Japan. At one point, there was even an event warning people to watch out for wandering hornets and to avoid being stung.
The hornet also has a dire need for protein, hunting down other insects like beetles. A nest of hornets contains as many as one thousand individuals and their offspring, found in decomposing trees and underground.
The coming swarms
The first known discovery of the murder hornet in North America was in California in 2016, where entomologist Allan Smith-Pardo identified a hornet’s nest with no adults in a cargo container, believed to be smuggled abroad for “hornet liquor.”
However, the hornets attained greater prominence in Aug. 2019, when sightings were made in British Columbia, Canada, followed by reports of the hornet in the United States in December of the same year.
In Oct. 2020, the first hornet nest was found and destroyed in the United States. “They are pretty intimidating, even for an inch-and-a-half insect. They are big and loud and I know it would hurt very badly if I get stung,” said entomologist Chris Looney, who was tasked to vacuum the hornets up. “They give me the willies.”
An invasive species is an organism introduced to a new environment, which can then cause immense damage to the surrounding ecosystem. Certain invasive species have been known to upset the food chain in their new homes, tipping other native species near extinction.
Prominent examples of invasive species include Burmese pythons threatening many animal populations in Florida, Asian carp overwhelming fish populations and aquatic plants in the Great Lakes, and South-American cane toads causing the decline and extinction of predator species in Australia with their toxic skins.
Bees under fire
While dangerous to humans, hornets are a greater danger to bee populations across the United States, and thus pose a threat to beekeepers.
When hunting, a swarm of hornets can wipe out an entire bee colony in hours, ripping the heads off adult bees and taking the young ones away to be fed to young hornets.
In one case, veteran beekeeper Ted McFall went to check on a few hives, when he spotted what looked like a massacre with decapitated carcasses of bees outside and inside their hive.
“I couldn’t wrap my head around what could have done that,” said Mr. McFall, later suspecting that his bees were slaughtered by murder hornets.
With the hornet’s murderous hunting spree on bees, the bee population in the United States, already declining from climate change, could be threatened further. As a result, the country’s agriculture and apiary industry, which relies on these pollinators, could also suffer.
The potential risks of a hornet invasion may not truly be something out of an old horror movie, but their invasive reign could wipe out the bee population and impact agriculture as a whole. By dedicating our efforts to finding and preventing the migration of these invasive species, the delicate balance of our environment may be restored and preserved.