Stirring Up the Hornet’s Nest

The buzz around the murder hornet dilemma was one not to miss in 2020. Reminiscent of the Alfred Hitchcock film The Birds, the hornets’ arrival in newspaper headlines was one that caused great panic; after all, they are named murder hornets.

Otherwise called the Asian giant hornet or V. mandarinia, “murder hornet” stings are suspected to be the source of 40-50 human fatalities per year in Japan. Luckily, the hornet typically avoids humans unless provoked. For honeybees, however, murder hornets prove themselves to be a serious threat. The craze around the 2-inch insect began in Washington state as beekeepers within the region reported horrific hive massacres in the fall of 2019 into the spring and summer months of this year.  As reported by the New York Times, murder hornets, “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.” Altogether, two sightings of the hornets were reported in Washington. 

Honeybees are a potentially endangered species, primarily due to a loss of natural habitation, an increased use of insecticides, and colony collapse disorder (abnormal phenomenon in which the majority of worker bees disappear), as indicated by The Scottish Bee Company. Honeybees already have the whole world against them- the last thing they need are flying predators on the loose. 

While some subspecies of bees, like Japanese honeybees, possess the ability to “cook” their predator through a fascinating group-attack method called “thermoballing,” humans have fewer options. According to the “What-If Show,” murder hornets are relentless attackers. You would quite honestly “balloon-up.” The searing pain, which has been compared to burning nails in several accounts, would leave you unconscious. And mandaratoxin, the hornet’s venom, would enter the bloodstream, shut down the organs, and ultimately lead to death. Throughout the onslaught, the hornet would keep stinging. Brutal, I know.

It was a wave of relief to discover that the danger of murderous hornets in the United States was blown out of proportion. Media sources in May, when this issue first moved into the public eye, depicted the predator as a terrifying force. It is safe to say that the murder hornet, although an invasive species, is not the bringer of apocalyptic doom in North America. If anything, COVID-19 is of the utmost concern this year. 

Even so, why did murder hornets gain so much attention? In October, acclaimed astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s prediction that a meteor could sink America and destroy Earth did not instill half the fear the two-inch insect could.

The world was already predicted to have ended in 2012. America survived the 1918 flu pandemic. However, murder hornets were unheard of in the US before 2020. And their threats to honeybee populations, which function as vital pollinators, is something to look out for in 2021.

In a 2021 state-of-mind, one can reflect that through facing a worldwide pandemic, social strife, and political hostility, anything is possible. It is clear that while the nightmarish imagery of a hornet swarm looming at one’s doorstep is frightening, an even greater threat lurks in a species of one’s own. The lesson behind murder hornets stings deeper than the surface— America has long way to go before reaching the resolution of many conflicts.