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The buzz around Northern giant hornets

The New York Times called it a “killer,” some researchers refer to it as the “murder hornet,” and TMZ said in their online article, “The hornets kill people too, BTW,” inserting a quote from The New York Times that claims up to 50 people get stung by them and die each year… failing to mention that those people live in Japan. 

As your local pest control experts, we sat down with one of our top entomologists, Dr. Nancy Troyano, to gain insight about the northern giant hornet, formerly known as the Asian giant hornet. We share those learnings with you in this article, providing clarity about the hornet's presence in the U.S. and to ease your fears about any impending invasions.

In response to all the buzz about the northern giant hornet’s presence in the U.S., Dr. Troyano says,

“When news stories break about invasive and potentially harmful insects, it can be very scary.  However, it is important that we remain calm and collect the facts. In this case, finding a few specimens in Washington state does not mean that these hornets have become established in the United States. Additionally, all of this publicity surrounding the northern giant hornet promotes hypervigilance. There are many state and local authorities as well as community members now on the lookout for these insects. Early detection will help to stop their spread.”

Knowing the facts about the northern giant hornet

The northern giant hornet, also called the 'murder hornet', is the largest hornet species in the world. Adults measure between 1.5 to 2 inches in length with a 3-inch wingspan. They are aggressive, but no more than a bald-faced hornet or other stinging insects that will instinctually defend their nest. Basically, they aren’t seeking out humans to attack, unless they feel threatened. They follow similar behavior patterns to those of other stinging insects. The queen comes out of hibernation and establishes her nest in early spring. The workers become more active during the late summer and early fall months (usually July-October) as they forage for food.

See how the size of the northern giant hornet compares to that of other stinging insects, below:

Sizing up the Asian giant hornet

Honey bee populations at risk

The biggest threat that northern giant hornets pose in the U.S. is to our honey bee populations. European honey bees do not have the ability to defend their hives against the northern giant hornet as the Japanese honeybees do by essentially baking the marker hornet to death. 30 northern giant hornets can completely decimate a hive of 30,000 European honey bees in a matter of a couple of hours – a valid concern for beekeepers and food suppliers who rely on the pollination of honey bees.

Where did the northern giant hornet come from?

The northern giant hornet, as its former name 'Asian giant hornet' suggests, comes from Asia and is found in Japan, Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal, Laos, Cambodia, India, Vietnam, China, and the southeast part of Asian Russia. It is fairly new to the U.S. — discovered in Washington in December 2019.

Where in the U.S. have the murder hornets been spotted?

To date, there have been positive identifications in Washington. According to the Washington State Department of Agriculture, they have also been spotted in two locations in British Columbia. But be careful! They're often mistaken for cicada killer wasps, so make sure you can tell the difference with our guide.

Bald face hornet

What is the risk of being stung by an northern giant hornet?

The risk of an northern giant hornet sting is no greater than that of any other stinging insect's sting. However, what does differentiate the murder hornet’s sting from the sting of a bee, yellow jacket or wasp is the stinger size and venom volume. The quarter-inch stinger can penetrate through several layers of clothing, damaging your skin and rendering an ordinary beekeeping suit useless. Also, because they deliver a larger dose of venom when they do sting, it tends to be more toxic than that of other stinging insects, which means the sting will likely cause more pain.

What type of traps can catch murder hornets?

Standard over-the-counter hornet traps do not have large enough openings to accommodate the northern giant hornets. The Washington State Department of Agriculture published 8 things to know about trapping northern giant hornets, which covers important topics such as how to make homemade traps, when to set up traps, how often to check traps, the possibility of being stung, how to report catches, and what to do if you encounter a nest.

How do we prevent northern giant hornets from spreading?

The state of Washington is being diligent about locating and eradicating murder hornet nests. Therefore, the likelihood of them establishing a strong presence in the U.S. is low. If you encounter a murder hornet or spot a nesting site, report it to your local department of agriculture. Several Washington counties are on high alert and have enlisted beekeepers and volunteers to survey areas, setting traps in hopes of eradicating the hornets and keeping them from spreading. They are also talking about tracking live hornets back to their nests.

Learn more about WSDA’s program to eradicate them, here.


What do northern giant hornets eat? 

The queen survives on tree sap in the early spring before a nest has been established. Once the nest and colony are established, they feed on other insects. Honeybee hives are a frequent target for northern giant hornets, as they offer a lot of food for the least amount of effort. After the kill, hornets are able to extract honeybee parts, larvae and pupae from the hive.

Where do northern giant hornets build hives? 

Northern giant hornets primarily build their hives underground, in abandoned animal burrows and in hollows in trees.

Western Exterminator: Experienced in stinging insect control

If you find a stinging insect nest or hive, do not take any chances. Trying to knock down the nest or using other DIY methods can backfire, putting you at risk of stings. At Western Exterminator, we effectively and safely treat and remove stinging insect nests and hives. We also seal up any entry points that have allowed stinging insects to gain access to your home, which helps to prevent their return. Our Western Exterminator Technicians will get rid of the nests around your property and use preventative measures to deter them from returning. Contact us online or call 800-937-8398 today for help with stinging insect control.

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