Mariana Fabian Headshot

Tracker jackers? Not this time. Invasive species have once again become popular online with the rise of the “Murder Hornets.” They are actually called Asian giant hornets, due to their size, but they have gained their name due to their aggressive behaviors. According to Smithsonian Magazine, these insects are the culprits behind the massacres of entire honey bee hives, and are capable of doing so in as little as several hours, taking the lives of thousands of helpless bee larvae that are left as food for the hornets. 

There have been a couple of confirmed sightings throughout the U.S. and Canada, but not enough to be considered a takeover. However, researchers are keeping track of these hornets, as they can cause multitudes of damage to honeybees, which are critical to environments around the world. 

People are mainly afraid of these hornets because they are harmful. Their potent sting is similar to a hot nail being pressed into flesh. The New York Times interviewed several beekeepers and agricultural biologists from the state of Washington, one of the places where they first confirmed to be causing problems. Ruthie Danielsen, a local Washington beekeeper, was interviewed by The New York Times. 

“Most people are scared to get stung by them,” Ruthie Danielsen said to The New York Times. “We’re scared that they are going to totally destroy our hives.”

Without honeybees, many populations around the world suffer, not only humans. According to BBC news, “They are critical pollinators: they pollinate 70 of the around 100 crop species that feed 90% of the world.” There is no way for this world to support 7 billion mouths without honeybees. The loss of bees would also mean the loss of all the plants that bees pollinate. Animals that consume these plants would suffer, and the suffering would continue up to the top of the food chain, causing environmental collapse. 

These hornets do not deserve the attention they have gained from the media, as there are larger issues at hand that will cause more damage. In an interview with ABC News, May Berenbaum, an entomologist from the University of Illinois, said humans should be more worried about mosquitoes.

“People are afraid of the wrong thing,” Berenbaum said to ABC News. “The scariest insect out there are mosquitoes. People don’t think twice about them. If anyone’s a murder insect, it would be a mosquito.”

Furthermore, according to ABC News, “Mosquitoes are responsible for millions of yearly deaths worldwide from malaria, dengue fever, and other diseases, according to the World Health Organization. Asian giant hornets at most kill a few dozen people a year, and some experts claim it's probably far less.”

For honeybees, the largest worry is a rising “zombie bee” type parasite that is being seen in increasing numbers throughout the U.S. According to AP News, “Flies attach themselves to the bees and inject their eggs, causing erratic ‘zombie-like’ behavior in the bees such as flying at night and toward light. The bees often die within hours. Fly larvae burst out of their carcasses days later.” 

Even so, researchers are unaware if these creatures are having a huge impact on honeybee populations, seeing as there have only been a couple of cases in states throughout the U.S. 

So should you be worried about these murder hornets in North Carolina? Most likely not. The North Carolina Department of Agriculture has asked residents to report any sightings to them, so they can handle them. A radio station interviewed NC Agriculture Entomologist, Whitney Swink, about our chances.

"If, heaven forbid, it did show up in North Carolina, we’d probably know pretty quickly, and our goal would be to immediately eradicate before any establishment is allowed to occur," Swink said. "But in terms of a true likelihood, I think it’s very, very low risk of it showing up here in North Carolina."

The distinction between Asian big hornets and European hornets that populate some of North Carolina is that European ones have yellow and brown markings upon their face, while Asian hornets have a bright orange face. If you do see one, the department has also said that if you can, take a photo of a suspected Asian giant hornet. These photos can be submitted through an online form on NC State University’s Plant Disease and Insect Clinic website.

As summer nears, people are especially excited to get back outside, while social distancing of course. Instead of being afraid of the Asian giant hornets and their sting, put on some bug spray to avoid mosquitoes; they are the real parasite. With the reopening of North Carolina, I would also be wary of other individuals, as the virus is still deadly, and more of a worry than “murder hornets.”