• The murder hornet is a type of large insect known to attack honeybees.
  • Asian giant hornets are carnivorous and feed insects to their offspring.
  • They also carry venom, which is released when they sting insects, animals, and humans.

There’s a new type of hornet that’s been spotted around the northwestern rim of Washington state. It’s called Vespa mandarinia, and reigns from southeastern Asia — though you may be more familiar with its new rough-and-tough nickname: the murder hornet.

It sounds dangerous, but bee specialists say they don’t pose much of a threat to human health. They’re not as bloodthirsty as their nickname may suggest.

“As a pollinator ecologist, I am not fond of the ‘murder hornet’ nickname,” said Lila Westreich, a PhD candidate researching native bee ecology at the University of Washington.

This sentiment is shared among other entomologists. In fact, the Washington State Department of Agriculture also tweeted that they “hate the name,” and that the proper terminology for the insects is the Asian giant hornet.

The murder hornet nickname, which was given to the hornets because they’re known to brutally attack honeybees, implies that the hornets are different from all other types of bees and wasps.

But, in actuality, they’re similar, according to Westreich.

Like other hornets, Asian giant hornets are carnivorous and feed insects to their offspring. They also carry venom, which is released when they sting insects, animals, and humans.

“Wasps do the same thing and are directly related to bees,” Westreich told Healthline.

Asian giant hornets are larger than your average bee, averaging around 1.5 to 2 inches in length. For reference, honeybees are usually around half an inch long.

Asian giant hornets have large, orange heads. They prefer to nest in the ground (think animal tunnels or rotting wood), says Charlie Braman, a research specialist at the Riparian Invasion Research Laboratory at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

They generally don’t attack people and animals unprovoked, but they will defend their hives if they feel threatened or disturbed.

Their stingers are longer than honeybees’ stingers, and their venom is more toxic, according to the Washington State Department of Agriculture.

“It’s large size means when it is provoked to sting, there is a large amount of venom injected,” Braman said.

Westreich says their sting is powerful and would feel like hot thumbtacks, or cause shooting pain. The vast majority of people wouldn’t develop any complications from a single sting.

“It’s large size means when it is provoked to sting, there is a large amount of venom injected. The sting can be painful but will subside after a short time for anyone except individuals who are allergic to bee and wasp stings in general,” Braman said.

Asian giant hornets can sting more than once. Enough stings from these big bugs — like 10 or more — could be life threatening. But that’s true of all hornet and wasps species, according to Westreich.

“Even honeybees can kill, if they sting you enough times!” Westreich said.

Research has shown that those with underlying health issues may have a greater risk for experiencing complications, like tissue necrosis and multiple organ injury, if stung multiple times.

The researchers noted that multiple organ injury after wasp stings is rare.

The main health concern is for people who are allergic to hornet venom. If they run into an Asian giant hornet and get stung, they could go into anaphylactic shock.

The good news is that the hornets don’t have nests and aren’t established in the United States at this time.

Only two individual hornets were found on U.S. soil (around Blaine, Washington, in December 2019).

While it is somewhat alarming these hornets were found in the United States — as they’ve never been detected on U.S. soil before — they were caught early enough that we can hopefully prevent them from taking up residence here, according to Braman.

Finding just a couple hornets here doesn’t mean the species will be able to successfully live here, Westreich says, especially since the Washington State Department of Agriculture has aggressively (and successfully) been working to eradicate them.

“This is preventative invasion ecology work, not reactive,” Westreich said. “They’re hunting down any remaining hornets, not searching for thousands of nests.”

Hornets are known to have a difficult time establishing in new environments.

Asian giant hornets don’t seem to tolerate dry, arid conditions well, and prefer wetland areas. They also have a complicated mating process requiring multiple colonies and new queen bees, which don’t exist in the United States, Braman says.

Right now, the possibility that the hornets will soon call the United States home is low. A sting would be unpleasant, but people outside of Washington state are unlikely to ever encounter one, Braman says.

“I’d say northwest Washingtonians may want to carry an EpiPen, but the rest of the country can take a deep breath,” Westreich said.

There’s a new type of hornet that’s been spotted around the northwestern rim of Washington state. It’s called Vespa mandarinia, and reigns from southeastern Asia — though you may be more familiar with its new rough-and-tough nickname: the murder hornet.

Bee scientists aren’t fond of the murder hornet nickname. It implies the bugs are different from other types of bees and wasps when, in actuality, they’re similar.

A single sting, though unpleasant, won’t do much harm, unless a person is allergic to bee stings.

Multiple stings, however, can lead to life threatening outcomes. That said, the hornets typically don’t attack unless provoked or disturbed.

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