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Do we have murder hornets here?

Do we have murder hornets here?

Asian Giant Hornet. Photo by Gary Alpert at en.wikipedia, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1546564

By Judy Reed

As if having to deal with the fear of uncertainty of the novel virus COVID-19 wasn’t enough, in the last week we’ve been inundated with news about a possible new threat: murder hornets. Or to be more precise, the Asian Giant Hornet (AGH).

Should we be worried? Are they here? What are they exactly?

AGH are mainly found in parts of Russia, Korea, Japan and many Asian countries. And late last year, there were a couple of sightings of single hornets in Washington State.

According to experts with the Washington State Department of Agriculture, the Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia) is the world’s largest species of hornet. In December 2019, WSDA received and verified two reports of Asian giant hornet near Blaine, Washington. They reported that these are the first-ever sightings in the United States. Canada had also discovered Asian giant hornet in two locations in British Columbia in the fall of 2019.
From the WSDA website: “Asian giant hornet attacks and destroys honeybee hives. A few hornets can destroy a hive in a matter of hours. The hornets enter a “slaughter phase” where they kill bees by decapitating them. They then defend the hive as their own, taking the brood to feed their own young. They also attack other insects but are not known to destroy entire populations of those insects. While they do not generally attack people or pets, they can attack when threatened. Their stinger is longer than that of a honeybee and their venom is more toxic. They can also sting repeatedly.” They also noted that typical beekeeping protective clothing is not sufficient to protect you from stings.

Since the news broke about the sightings, many people online have claimed to see them in other states and posted various photos. AFP Fact Check set out to find out whether the claims were true. From their story: “However, there have been no confirmed sightings of Asian giant hornets in the US outside the state of Washington as of May 8, 2020, and none of the insects in the photos…are vespa mandarinia, its scientific name. The sightings in Washington state have not been linked to established hornet nests in the wild, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

“Anne Lebrun, National Policy Manager for USDA’s Honeybee and Pollinator Pest Programs, told AFP by email that ‘neither USDA nor WSDA (the Washington State Department of Agriculture) has any evidence that Asian giant hornet populations are established in Washington State or anywhere else in the United States.”’ (https://factcheck.afp.com/false-sightings-asian-giant-hornet-flourish-us)

The AGH is much larger than hornet or wasp we are used to seeing. Here are some characteristics:

  • Usually 1.5 – 2 inches in length
  • Large orange/yellow head with prominent eyes
  • Black and yellow striped abdomen
  • Forms large colonies that usually nest in the ground

So the answer is no, they have not been spotted in Michigan, or anywhere near us. If you see an insect you are unsure about, contact the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development through email at MDA-Info@Michigan.gov or call MDARD’s Customer Service Center during regular business hours Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET at 1-800-292-3939.

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