While many of us tend to grow out of our childhood fear of bees, we never seem to grow out of our fear of hornets. And for good reason! Hornets are the largest of the eusocial wasps, and their stings can have much more dangerous repercussions than that of a regular bee. The most threatening variation of hornet, the Asian giant hornet, primarily lives in Japan in low mountain foothills and lowland forests, but has been spotted in parts of North America as recently as 2020. To learn more about the origins of these deadly Japanese hornets, keep reading on.
Asian giant hornets, also known as Japanese killer hornets, “giant sparrow wasps,” or “murder hornets,” are about as frightening as they come. Japanese hornets are the largest hornet species in the world. Giant hornet workers can grow to be anywhere between 1 ½ inches to 2 inches, while giant hornet queens can exceed the 2 inch maximum. Their wingspans commonly measure in at 3 inches; for reference, a can of Campbell’s soup also has a diameter of 3 inches. That’s a pretty big bee!
The stinger of an Asian giant hornet is roughly 6 millimeters long, which is about 4.5 millimeters longer than the stinger of a typical honeybee. Stored within their stingers is a rather potent venom that contains cytolytic peptide that can damage tissue. Within the venom is a neurotoxin called mandaratoxin, and while one hornet cannot inject a being with a lethal dose, multiple stings can be enough to kill someone without a venom allergy. The most terrifying aspect of these Japanese giant hornets, though, are their ability to spray venom into a person’s eyes. The venom has been known to cause substantial vision problems, so if you ever find yourself up close and personal with a killer hornet, remember to cover your eyes!
As mentioned before, the murder hornets were found in North America for the very first time during the second half of 2019. The horrendous hornets were mostly concentrated to the Vancouver area, but they also managed to make their way down to parts of Washington state, as well. While we have reason to fear these Japanese hornets, the good news is that in most cases, they will not show any aggression towards you if you don’t show any aggression towards them. In fact, Asian giant hornets were only responsible for less than 13 deaths in Japan between 2017 and 2018. With that being said, though, when it comes to Japanese killer hornets, it’s best to always navigate with caution.
If you’re still worried about the possibility of a hornet sting, here are some things you can do to lower your odds of a Japanese hornet run-in:
- Asian giant hornets are often attracted to dark colors, so if you find yourself roaming around a mountainous terrain or a forest full of foliage, stick to whites and pastels.
- Hornets are also drawn to sweet smells, so leave the sodas, sugary snacks, and pleasant perfumes at homes.
- Similar to the previous bullet point, try your best to stay away from tree sap. Japanese killer hornets will always find their way to a sap-tapped tree.
When you hear the name “murder hornet”, it’s hard not to panic. But as long as you stay informed and keep to yourself, you’re sure to come out the other end of the mountain range unscathed and un-stung.