What Are 'Murder Hornets' and Should We Be Scared?

The Asian giant hornet, dubbed the "murder hornet," has been spotted in the United States for the first time in December.
The Asian giant hornet, dubbed the "murder hornet," has been spotted in the United States for the first time in December.(The Washington State Department of Agriculture)

The species, which is responsible for killing dozens in Japan every year, has been spotted in the United States for the first time.

Asian giant hornets have few predators, specifically target beehives and are known to kill dozens of people every year in Japan. And, the invasive and deadly insects dubbed “murder hornets” have found their way to the United States.

After four confirmed sightings in Washington State in December, which marked the first time in history the species was spotted in the United States, and several sightings in nearby British Columbia in the fall, experts say they are doing everything they can to make sure the Asian giant hornet species doesn’t take hold on the continent.

The species is native to East Asia, and while it is unclear how exactly they ended up in the Pacific Northwest, some believe they may have arrived via international cargo.

“We need to teach people how to recognize and identify this hornet while populations are small so that we can eradicate it while we still have a chance,” Island County Extension scientist Tim Lawrence said, according to Washington State University.

If the population does take hold in the United States, the consequences could be grave.

Like any new invasive species, experts warned that the Asian giant hornet’s presence can change our ecological landscape forever. They are known to attack honey bees, which are responsible for pollinating many crops in the Pacific Northwest, including blueberries and cherries. The Asian giant hornet will attack their hives, kill the adult bees and devour the larvae, Washington State University reported.

While they do not typically go after humans, “their stings are big and painful" and "multiple stings can kill humans, even if they are not allergic,” according to Washington State University. They are also known to sting through beekeeping suits.

The species was responsible for killing 42 people and injuring more than 1,500 across the Shaanxi province in China in 2013, according to CNN.

The hornet’s life cycle begins in April, when the queen wakes up from hibernation, according to the Washington State University. That’s when they begin scouting for food, feeding on plant sap and growing their colonies.

Experts anticipate they will become most active – and deadly – by late summer or early fall.

To report an Asian Giant Hornet sighting, contact the Washington State Department of Agriculture Pest Program at 1‑800‑443‑6684 or email at PestProgram@agr.wa.gov.