Recently a report on the discovery of the large, native Asian hornet (Vespa mandarinia) in Washington state and British Columbia went viral. The New York Times dubbed it the “murder hornet” because of its striking appearance and size (about 2″ in length, wingspan of 3″), assumed threat to the honeybee population and quarter inch stinger to inject venom into humans.
Dr. Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University’s Entomologist and Extension Specialist, offers a constructive look at the Asian hornet and cautions us to look past the dramatic, attention-grabbing headlines.
Cranshaw notes the following:
- Traps and controls have been developed in Asia and can be adapted for use in the very small outbreak in Washington and British Columbia.
- While some insects relocate to new areas via packing materials, wood or other carriers, this hornet does not hitchhike well. Given that, to reach Colorado, it would need to navigate difficult terrain from Washington. This is considered unlikely.
- The insect is a woodland species which lives in low altitude, moist environments. It is not likely to thrive or adapt to the semi-arid Rocky Mountain region. If it did get transported here, it is doubtful it would survive.
- It is a generalist predator and honeybees are just one of its many predatory targets. Whether the giant Asian hornet will pose any greater threat to honeybees than existing predators remains to be seen. But it is possible that colonies in the wasp’s preferred woodland areas could be the most vulnerable honeybees.
Cranshaw and other entomologists caution that “Murder wasp” is an unwarranted, fear-inducing name. While imposing and unique for its appearance, the Asian hornet’s potential impact needs to be kept in perspective and is not expected to live up to the recent hype.
“What’s In A Name? CSU Entomologist Says Title is All Buzz, No Sting” KUNC Radio Interview with Dr. W. Cranshaw, May 12,2020
Written by Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener