The 'Murder Hornet,' An Invasive And Deadly Insect, Has Arrived In The United States

The Asian giant hornet, or Vespa mandarinia, an insect so fearsome that it's been dubbed the "murder hornet," has arrived in the U.S., The New York Times reports. Entomologists say now is the time to get a handle on the invasive species that could devastate bee populations and even kill humans.

The bug, which as its name implies is native to Asia, can grow up to two-inches long. Its stinger is sharp enough and sturdy enough to puncture a beekeeper's protective suit. Those who have endured being stung by the creature say that its venom is not unlike having hot metal being injected into one's skin. And it can kill; the insect causes up to 50 deaths per year in Japan.

However, what entomologists fear most about the insect's arrival in the U.S. is its penchant for destroying honeybee hives, sometimes within hours. The insects use their mandibles to decapitate their prey, and bring their thoraxes back to their own hives to feed their young.

the asian giant hornet
Wikimedia Commons | Filippo Turetta

Washington state beekeeper Ted McFall describes seeing the devastation wrought by a swarm of the insects on his own beehives. He says that he checked on his hives one day, only to find thousands of carcasses, their heads torn from their bodies, littering the ground and the hives.

"I couldn't wrap my head around what could have done that," he said.

He didn't even suspect the "murder hornet" until days later.

Officially, McFall hasn't concluded that it was the Asian hornet that destroyed his hives. However, two of the insects were sighted last fall -- the first confirmed sightings of the bug in the U.S. -- in the northwest corner of his state.

Chris Looney, an entomologist at the Washington State Department of Agriculture, says that now is the time to act in order to get the insects under control.

"This is our window to keep it from establishing. If we can't do it in the next couple of years, it probably can't be done," he said.

For now, researchers are trying to lure queens looking to establish nests by laying out traps. Similarly, hunters are using thermal imaging to try to spot nests, where the buzzing and internal activity can raise the temperature inside to 86 degrees.

Once the animals are identified, researchers hope to attach radio-frequency identification tags to monitor where they go. Most insects wouldn't be able to fly with such additional weight, but for an insect as giant as the Asian hornet, that's not an issue.