Remember the Asian murder hornets? They made headlines at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, just when things were beginning to fall apart. We’ve learned so much since then, and so little. One thing we learned — the murder hornets disappeared from the cultural discussion, and we seem to have avoided the threat.
But scientists recently predicted that the Asian murder hornets could return to the United States to build new habitats across the West Coast. These insects might even become a global problem, too, the scientist said.
The study said “if the world’s largest hornet gains a foothold in Washington state, it could spread down much of the west coast of the United States.”
What is the giant hornet?
- The Asian giant hornet is a large insect that “can use mandibles shaped like spiked shark fins to wipe out a honeybee hive in a matter of hours, decapitating the bees and flying away with the thoraxes to feed their young,” according to The New York Times.
- The hornets use their venom and stingers to “make for an excruciating combination that victims have likened to hot metal driving into their skin,” The New York Times reports.
Where do they live?
- Japan has seen a high amount of Asian hornets. And Washington state appeared to be ground zero for the outbreak earlier this year.
Where will they go next?
Researchers at Washington State University predicted that the hornets could find suitable habitats in Africa, Australia, Europe, and South America, as well as the eastern United States if humans accidentally transport it.
The scientists said a worst-case scenario would lead to the hornets living throughout Washington and Oregon within the next 20 years. But there still remains a lot of unknowns, according to WSU entomologist Javier Illan.
- “The information that we want—how fast and far queens can fly, and when they fly—is all unknown,” Illan said. “A lot of basic biology is unknown. So, we’re using a surrogate.”
- “We know queens come out of their nest in the fall, mate, and fly — somewhere,” Looney said. But nobody knows how far they fly, or if they fly repeatedly. We don’t know if they set up nests in the spring near where they hibernated, or if they start flying again. These are some of the things that make predicting natural dispersal a challenge.”