by Connie Oswald Stofko
“I hope people aren’t afraid,” said Kathleen Goodman, a Master Gardener volunteer with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Erie County.
She was wrapping up her presentation on Asian giant hornets, which have gotten the nickname “murder hornets.” That nickname grabs people’s attention, but it stirs up fear, too.
“I just want people to know what’s going on,” Goodman said.
Goodman gave the presentation on Asian giant hornets last week as part of Garden Fence Chats, an online series provided by the Master Gardeners of Cornell Cooperative Extension in Erie County. (See videos of the entire series here.)
Why you don’t need to worry
The most important thing you need to know is that there aren’t any Asian giant hornets in Western New York.
The only place in the United States that the Asian giant hornets have been identified is in Washington State, and people there are working hard to eradicate them so they can’t spread to the rest of the country.
Asian giant hornets were brought to Washington State from Japan, though it’s not known exactly how they arrived. They may have been purposely imported, Goodman said. Some people eat them to enhance their athletic performance.
The Asian giant hornets are also in France, the southern United Kingdom, northern Italy and the Iberian Penninsula.
June 7-13 is Invasive Species Awareness Week. While Asian giant hornets aren’t a big concern here in New York State, there are other insects, animals and plants that we are dealing with. Learn more here.
Are ‘murder hornets’ dangerous?
Asian giant hornets can be dangerous to humans. They aren’t aggressive unless you swat at them, but their stings can be dangerous, Goodman said. As many as 50 people in Japan die each year from their stings.
Their stings are painful and are more dangerous than bee stings. Their long stingers can penetrate clothing, including beekeepers’ suits.
If you ever see Asian giant hornets, run away. And if you were to be stung, you should go directly to the hospital, Goodman said.
But again, we don’t have any Asian giant hornets in Western New York.
Beekeepers are the people who are most in danger because they come between the hornets and their food: honeybees.
The Asian giant hornets bite off the heads of bees with their large mandibles. They can kill all of the bees in a hive within an hour or two. They occupy the honeybee hive for up to a week or longer, feeding on the pupae and larvae. Then the hornets feed their young.
Honeybees in North America don’t have defenses against the Asian giant hornets, so if Asian giant hornets were able to spread, it would be devastating to beekeepers as well as to food growers who depend on the bees.
How can we identify Asian giant hornets?
Asian giant hornets are bigger than any bee or wasp we have in Western New York.
You may see European hornets in Western New York, which are about an inch long, but the Asian giant hornets are almost twice as big. Asian giant hornets can get to be two inches long, and they’re wide, too. This image gives you a sense of its size.
Its coloring is black with orange, rather than yellow.
Sightings of Asian giant hornets
Don’t believe everything you read on Facebook about Asian giant hornets, Goodman said. People may post a photo of what they say is an Asian giant hornet, but it’s a wasp or other insect.
If you do spot an insect that you think might be an Asian giant hornet, you can contact Cornell Cooperative Extension, said Sharon Bachman, Agriculture & Natural Resources Educator at Cooperative Extension in Erie County.
“Always feel free to ask questions,” Bachman said.