Panic over vilified ‘murder hornets' in US threatens innocent insects like bees & wasps

People in China & Japan have lived with 'murder hornets' for centuries, so what's the big deal?

Sumita Thiagarajan| May 14, 05:59 PM

After reports over two "murder hornets" spotted in Washington state, United States, popped up on media sites at the start of May, it has led to the indiscriminate killing of native bees and wasps.

According to the senior museum scientist for the Department of Entomology at University of California, Riverside, “millions and millions of innocent native insects are going to die as a result of this", LA Times reported.

Asian Giant Hornets have existed in East Asia for centuries

Unfortunately, the bad press that Asian Giant Hornets (Vespa mandarinia), coined as "murder hornets", has led to the killing of insects whose populations are already threatened and are beneficial to the ecosystem.

The senior museum scientist, Dough Yanega, who was quoted by LA Times, said that "millions and millions of innocent native insects are going to die as a result of this" and that the hornets have existed with humans for centuries:

“Folks in China, Korea and Japan have lived side by side with these hornets for hundreds of years, and it has not caused the collapse of human society there. My colleagues in Japan, China and Korea are just rolling their eyes in disbelief at what kind of snowflakes we are.”

More than just 'murder hornets' in Japan

In Japan, where Asian Giant Hornets are native, a study estimated that 30 to 50 people die due to strings from the hornets.

The hornets are more commonly encountered in rural areas of Japan but hornets are not out to kill.

In the region of Chubu, Central Japan, these insects are not known for their aggression and painful sting.

Instead, they are viewed as a satisfying snack and a special ingredient in liquor, reported New York Times.

Considered as a delicacy, the hornet and other varieties of wasps are steamed in rice, fried on skewers and even added to shochu, a type of liquor.

In some parts of Japan, these hornets are viewed as being beneficial as they remove pests from crops, such as caterpillars, reported The Conversation.

Do not disturb hornets and you will be fine: S'pore entomologist

According to a local entomologist in Singapore, Foo Maosheng, who is a Scientific Officer at Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, Asian Giant Hornets have venom that is more potent than honeybees.

However, Foo told Mothership that hornets or wasps do not attack unless provoked.

He added that the Asian Giant Hornet's recent rise in 'popularity' will do more harm than good to insects, with all the unnecessary worries and fears:

"To a layman, they may be quick to label any insect that looks like the Asian Giant Hornet as the “murder” hornet. This can lead to unnecessary quick killing of insects like immediate insecticide spraying, setting up bait traps and/or more fumigation in the area it was sighted. The native and/or beneficial insects will be affected by these, and that can upset the balance of the ecosystem."

He then added that if you do not disturb a wasp or hornet and stay away from them, you will be fine as the insect will not disturb you.

Here are tips from him on what to do if you see a wasp or a hornet:

  • Do not do anything to provoke it.
  • Just take a few steps back and move away from it.
  • Most of the time when someone gets stung, it is because they are too near the hornet or wasp or its hive or may have disturbed it.

Top images via Yasunori Koide/Wikipedia Commons and LiCheng Shih/Wikipedia Commons