[James Wainscoat/ unsplash]

The Truth About So-Called “Murder Hornets”

16:27 May 20, 2020
By: John Glover

A time of calamity provides ample fodder for the over-active imagination. Life seems unpredictable. People feel disconnected, merely reacting to external events that they can't hope to control. The uncertainty ensuing from world events taking center stage in ordinary peoples' lives is anathema to the human brain, which cries out anxiously for a clean narrative.

Any sort of tale, no matter how outlandish, would surely be preferable, so long as it ties in the glaring loose ends all over the place. It could be some sort of half-baked conspiracy theory concerning conniving government officials. It could be swarms of Asian "murder hornets" blotting out the sun over the Pacific Ocean like an Old Testament nightmare: "When Moses's people were in Pharaoh's land, let the people go," and so on and so forth.

In recent weeks, this bizarre narrative about apocalyptic bugs appears to have caused mass hysteria. Following the self-fulfilling prophecy of the internet phenomenon, anything that frightens people must immediately be ridiculed and memefied.

Some people might genuinely be scared to death about beady-eyed insect hordes that follow attack patterns like Kamikazes. The word for widespread disease outbreak is "plague," after all—an ancient word with a Biblical etymology signifying divine wrath. If you're someone who thinks God sent the coronavirus to punish sinners, then it makes sense to be looking over your shoulder for bugs. A hornet, murderous or otherwise, could be mistaken for a locust and vice versa.

For the less literal-minded, non-fire-and-brimstone types, posting about the end of days is meant to be ironic. Regardless of whether or not it's raining blood outside, life under the coronavirus induces stress. People need to let off steam somehow.

Before you start ritualistically sacrificing domestic animals and painting your doorsteps with entrails to assuage the Angel of Death, consider the truth about murder hornets. A publication called The Conversation recently interviewed an entomologist with experience in Japan. They asked Akito Y. Kawahara, a professor at the University of Florida, five questions.

1.How common are giant hornets in Asia, and what are they like there?

Giant hornets are relatively common in many East Asian countries. They aren't necessarily aggressive, unless provoked. Hornets should be considered more dangerous than bees and wasps. They can sting a person more than once, and they have enough reach to penetrate thick clothing. A sting causes no more than irritation that goes away soon, except in cases of allergic reaction. Serious allergic reactions are vanishingly rare.

2.Is it surprising that hornets are in this hemisphere now?

Two Asian hornet nests have been found in North America so far, one in Washington state and one in Canada. They are an invasive species who probably crossed the ocean as stowaways. Most likely a "single, fertile queen" made it, as a whole colony would have been detected by customs agents. These incidents occurred back in 2019. No one has discovered any giant hornets on the continent this year.

3.What is the bug's natural habitat?

Giant hornets usually live in temperate mountainous areas, where the temperature remains moderate year-round. It's possible that these bugs could spread throughout the Pacific Northwest because of its climate. That scenario is remote, however, because of the giant hornet's limited foraging range.

4.Could the invasive species usurp native pollinators like bees?

Hornets have been known to make war on bees in the past. They generally feed on other insects. If giant hornets spread, beekeepers need to take active measures to protect their insects from larger predators.

5.Are headlines about "murder hornets" sensational?

The media reports are hyperbolic. In Japan, people accept the giant hornets. Hornets eradicate pests, and certain people eat them as a delicacy. If you live in the Northwest and see a giant hornet, photograph it and send the photo to wildlife authorities.

It turns out that the murder hornets came to the States as stowaways in some mysterious freight originating in Asia. The origins of the coronavirus are somewhat obscure, but people seem to have their suspicions. It's almost as if there were a trend of dangerous imports from that side of the world (Paging China's Hubei Province—the wet markets in Wuhan).

Seriously, though, the viral murder hornet story appears to have been highly exaggerated after all. The bugs might not have spread at all. Even if they did, unless you're a Northwestern bee farmer or some sort of honey-guzzling grizzly bear, there isn't much cause for concern.

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