Is that a murder hornet in WNY or just a lookalike? How you can tell

by Connie Oswald Stofko

Readers have contacted me because they felt sure they had seen the dangerous Asian giant hornet, also called the murder hornet, here in Western New York. I encouraged those folks to report it, and they probably did.

Yet there haven’t been any verified sightings of murder hornets anywhere in New York State. Why?

Because the Asian giant hornet has many lookalike species, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). See lookalikes here.

Two of the most common species that are confused with the Asian giant hornet are the eastern cicada killer and the European hornet.

eastern cicada killer compared to Asian giant hornet
The eastern cicada killer, left, is as big as the Asian giant hornet. Photo courtesy Hanna Royals, Museum Collections: Hymenoptera, USDA APHIS PPQ, Bugwood.org

Eastern cicada killer

I can understand why people would confuse the eastern cicada killer with the Asian giant hornet. A noticeable feature of the Asian giant hornet is its huge size– two inches long– but the eastern cicada killer is just as big.

The eastern cicada killer can be identified by its large, red eyes and its reddish thorax, according to the DEC.

They may be large, but eastern cicada killers are virtually no danger to humans; they prefer to use their stingers solely on cicadas. Only the females sting, and they will sting humans only if handled roughly.

Cicada killers dig nests in open areas, often with many nests in the same area. The females use their stingers to hunt and paralyze cicadas, dragging them into their nest for their young (larvae) to feed on. 

European hornet compard to Asian giant hornet
The European hornet, left, is half the size of the Asian giant hornet. Photo courtesy Hanna Royals, Museum Collections: Hymenoptera, USDA APHIS PPQ, Bugwood.org

European hornet

The European hornet is roughly half the size of an Asian giant hornet and has distinctive “teardrop” markings on its abdomen.

European hornets live in colonies with 300 or more workers and may aggressively defend their nests.

Because they are so aggressive, if you have a European hornet nest near your home that is a nuisance, don’t try to handle it yourself, cautioned the DEC. Use professional pest control services.

Status of murder hornets in WNY

Asian giant hornets have not been found in New York State and are unlikely to make their way here any time soon, according to the DEC.

The Asian giant hornet was first reported in the Vancouver Island area of Canada in August 2019 and has since been detected in the far northwest corner of Washington State, according to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It hasn’t left that area.

But we don’t want it here in Western New York, so if you think you may have spotted an Asian giant hornet, check out at the identification materials on the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets website. Compare your specimen to the photos there and you should be able to figure out what you have.

If you’ve looked at the photos and descriptions and you still suspect that you have an Asian giant hornet, you can email photos and location information to Plants@agriculture.ny.gov or contact Cornell Cooperative Extension in your county.

2 Comments on “Is that a murder hornet in WNY or just a lookalike? How you can tell

  1. We saw a murder hornet in the widow at the Buffalo Drum Outlet in Depew just before they went out of business. The proprietor shooed it out the door. We are NOT mistaken on this. We have photos as proof.

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