Insect experts say people should calm down about the big bug with the nickname “deadly hornet” – unless you’re a beekeeper or bee.
The giant Asian hornets found in Washington State who made the headlines this week are not big killers of humans, although it does happen on rare occasions. But the biggest hornets in the world decapitate entire hives of bees, and this crucial food pollinator is already in big trouble.
Many insect experts have told the Associated Press that what they call the hornet hype reminds them of the public fear of the 1970s when Africanized bees, nicknamed “killer bees,” began to move north from South America. Although these more aggressive bees have traveled to Texas and the southwest, they have not lived up to the nickname horror movie. However, they also kill people in rare situations.
This time, they are hornets with the nickname homicide, which the bug experts want to abandon.
“These are not” hornets of murder “. These are just hornets, “said Washington Department of Agriculture entomologist Chris Looney, who works on state research for these big hornets.
Experts say two dead hornets were discovered in Washington last December, a single living Canadian nest was found and wiped out last September, and no live hornets have been seen this year.
Looney has a message for Americans: these hornets don’t come looking for you. “The number of people who are bitten and need to see a doctor is incredibly small,” he said in an interview.
While its nickname exaggerates the threat to human health, experts have said that this hornet is particularly large – two inches long – so it carries more and stronger toxins.
“This is a really unpleasant bite for humans,” said Keith Delaplane, a bee expert at the University of Georgia. “It’s like the Africanized bee … A dozen (stings) you’re fine; 100 not so much. “
University of Illinois entomologist May Berenbaum said of the concern, “People are afraid of the wrong thing. The scariest insect is mosquitoes. People don’t think about it. If someone is a deadly insect, it would be a mosquito. “
According to the World Health Organization, mosquitoes are responsible for millions of annual deaths worldwide due to malaria, dengue fever and other diseases. Giant Asian hornets kill at most a few dozen people a year and some experts say it is probably much less.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hornet, wasp and bee stings kill an average of 62 people a year in the United States.
In Japan, Korea and China, “people have coexisted with this hornet for thousands of years,” said Doug Yanega, senior scientist at the University of California entomology research museum at Riverside.
Still, bug experts across the country are receiving worried calls from people who mistakenly think they’ve seen the Asian hornet.
“It’s 99% hype and frankly, I get tired of it,” said University of Delaware entomologist Doug Tallamy. “Murderous hornet?” Please. “
Jerry Bromenshenk, a retired bee expert from the University of Montana, said in an email: “A nest, an individual hornet, hopefully does not invade. … Do we want this hornet – certainly not. But the hype is turbo. “
For the bees and the people who rely on them for life, this could be another huge problem, but it is not yet the case.
The number of American honeybees has been declining for years, with winter 2018-19 being one of the worst ever. This is because of problems such as mites, diseases, pesticides and loss of food.
The new hornets would be different. If they enter a hive, they tear off the head of the worker bees and the hive almost dies. Asian bees have tusks – they start to buzz, raise the temperature and cook the invading hornet to death – but not bees in America.
The concern for beekeeping in Washington is based on the worst-case scenario that authorities must take seriously, said Looney.
Yet even for bees, invasive hornets are far from the list of real threats, not as concerning as the parasitic “zombie fly” because more of these have been seen in several states, said Berenbaum.
For people, hornets are scary because the world is already scared of coronaviruses and our innate fight-or-flight mechanisms are activated, putting people on edge, said risk expert David Ropeik, author “How Risky Is It, Really?” “
“This year is incredible in a horrible, horrible way. Why shouldn’t there be hornets of murder? Said Berenbaum.