People often ask me — from a safe distance of 6 feet away — “Scott, during your post-apocalyptic yardwork, have you run across any of those murder hornets that have captured the public’s attention during these uncertain times?”
Usually, I have to ask them to repeat the question because their masks muffle the words, but on the third or fourth try, I understand and yell back, “Not yet.”
That’s a bit of an exaggeration in these uncertain times, but several readers did send me links to stories about the discovery of murder hornets in the U.S., including one that said, “I thought about you when I read this.” That makes me think the person wants a hornet to murder me. I’ve developed a tad of paranoia during these uncertain times.
According to various published reports, including The Associated Press, the source I turn to for stories about lethal insects, the world’s largest hornet has been found in Washington state and hornet wranglers are hoping to wipe it out before it damages the honeybee population.
“It’s a shockingly large hornet,” Todd Murray, a WSU Extension entomologist and invasive species specialist told AP while looking nervously into the sky. “It’s a health hazard, and more importantly, a significant predator of honeybees.”
I added that part about him looking nervously into the sky, but if he didn’t, he should have.
As the interim senior entomology correspondent for this award-winning publication (Doug is on furlough this week), I aim to answer some common questions and clear up a few misconceptions about the appearance of the murder hornet on U.S. soil (or air).
What are my qualifications, you may ask if you are still reading at this point? I survived the 1970s killer bees scare and watched all the movies that resulted from it — “The Swarm,” “The Savage Bees,” “Deadly Invasion: The Killer Bee Nightmare,” etc.
Let’s start the Q&A.
Q. Scott, are these things really called murder hornets?
A. They are commonly known as Asian Giant Hornets, but that sounds vaguely racist and a tad boring so we in the media would rather refer to them as murder hornets because it’s attention-getting. Who doesn’t want to read a story about murder hornets?
Q. I read on the internet that murder hornets can be up to 6 feet long and one of them picked up a little boy in a city park and flew up to the top of the Space Needle in Seattle and an elite squad of hornet-fighting commandos rappelled from a helicopter and saved him before blowing up the murder hornet with a FIM-92 Stinger shoulder-fired missile. Is this true?
A. Murder hornets are the largest of their kind, but at their biggest they are about 2 inches in length. The scenario you described is part of my screenplay for a movie I am pitching to Netflix, “Murder Hornet: Stinger of Death.”
Q. Are murder hornets responsible for the meat shortage?
A. No. According to The Wall Street Journal, the coronavirus pandemic, not murder hornets, has disrupted meatpacking plants.
If the murder hornet invasion continues though, that could be a solution to the meat shortage. The New York Times reports that in the central Chub region of Japan, the murder hornet is considered good eating.
“The grubs are often preserved in jars, pan-fried or steamed with rice to make a savory dish called hebo-gohan,” reads a story by Ben Dooley. “The adults, which can be 2 inches long, are fried on skewers, stinger and all, until the carapace becomes light and crunchy. They leave a warming, tingling sensation when eaten.”
Q. Now that murder hornets have invaded the U.S., will we see an influx of similar insects that violate the penal code, such as arson ants, kidnapping katydids and drug-dealing dung beetles?
A. That remains to be seen. But rest assured, if it does happen, we in the media will be the first to let you know during these uncertain times.