Wrongly Accused? Murder Hornets and Mistaken Identity

Without a doubt 2020 has been a rough year, to say the least. In addition to coronavirus, shelter in place, furloughs, economic recession, riots, and an upcoming presential election, we hear that Asian Giant Hornets are invading our country. While we will leave most of the current state of affairs to the experts, Bug Tech can clear up some misconceptions about this new foreign invader.

A report by the New York Times in early May about Asian Giant Hornets, also known as murder hornets, seemed the icing on this year’s inedible cake but rest assured, they are not in Texas and are not the killers you may think.

Wrongfully Accused

Asian giant hornets first appeared in the US in 2019 and earned notoriety for their “murder hornet” nickname.  Believe it or not, murder hornets don’t murder anyone, but they can destroy honey bee colonies. The Asian giant hornet preys on bees and can decimate local honey bee populations, essential for most fruit and vegetable crop production. While the protection of our food supply is critical, we can let go of Hollywood inspired swarm fears when it comes to murder hornets. While Asian giant hornets are fiercely protective of their nests and will deploy painful stings that can cause fatal allergic reactions in people already sensitive to bee stings, mass murder is unlikely.

Nation-Wide Search

Although native to Japan, it is believed the Asian giant hornet made its way to the United States as a stowaway in shipping containers. Although they are strong flyers, so far, murder hornets have not been found in the U.S. outside of Washington state. But in recent weeks, Texas state experts report being inundated with look like insects submitted for identification as a possible murder hornet. Texas AgriLife Extension experts confirm that what we are seeing in Texas is not the Asian giant hornet but Texas native cicada killers, or ground hornets.

Mistaken Identity

Cicada killer wasps are mostly harmless to humans – their name comes from their hunting of cicadas, not us. While cicada killers may have a similar look to Asian giant hornets, size is the biggest differentiator. 

According to Texas A&M Agrilife experts, the Asian giant hornet is the world’s largest known hornet, measuring 1.5 to two inches in length. It has a head as wide as or wider than its shoulders, where the wings and legs are located, and it is a bright orange or yellow. The thorax, or shoulder portion where the wings and legs are connected, is a dark brown, as is the antenna. It has a pinched waist and smooth looking brown and orange stripes that cover the abdomen.

Close up of giant hornet Vespa mandarinia japonica

They also report that cicada killers, of which there are three different species, are also large, measuring one to 1.5 inches in length. However, the wasps will all typically have a head that is narrower than the thorax. The head and the thorax are typically the same color, a darker orange or brown color. Like the Asian giant hornet, the cicada killer also has a pinched waist, but the stripes on the abdomen are jagged and sometimes look like mountains.

While being aware of nearby buzzing is smart, remember that just because it’s big doesn’t make it a killer. Murder hornets are most dangerous to bees, and cicada killers rarely sting and are not aggressive.

Much like any other insect, pest control relies on understanding their lifecycle. If you have a pest control or pest identification question, Bug Tech can help.  Give us a call at 806-771-5142 or click here.

Source: https://agrilifeextension.tamu.edu/library/insects/murder-hornet/