Threat to humans is low as 'murder hornet' found in Washington state: Expert says

Monday, May 4, 2020
Invasive 'murder hornet' from Asia found in US
Officials are warning about the Asian giant hornet, a new invasive species found in Washington state.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- With a menacing gaze and robust frame, it isn't difficult to see why the Asian giant hornet is being described as a thing of nightmares.

Reaching sizes of up to more than 2 inches long, scientists have declared them the world's largest hornets whose stings can - and have - killed humans.

They have also been nicknamed "murder hornets" and now, for the first time, they have been spotted in the United States, specifically in Washington state.

So far, researchers aren't clear how the hornet made it overseas.

Insect experts in Pennsylvania say there have been zero sightings on the East Coast.

Dr. John Cambridge, the CEO of the Philadelphia Insectarium and Butterfly Pavilion, said right now, education is key as there are insects in our area that can easily be misidentified as the hornet.

"If people see an extra-large cicada killer, or bumblebee, or something like that, they're not seeing the giant Asian hornet," he said.

Cambridge said it could be years before the invasive hornet is ever spotted on the East Coast unless it's transported here.

Even then, he says, the threat to humans and the environment, in general, is low.

"It does not represent a dire ecological threat. It does not represent a danger to people who are around it," Cambridge added.

But the threat to honey bees is something those in bee industry are closely tuned in on.

"30 of these hornets can actually wipe out of 30,000 (honey bees)," said Don Shump, owner of the Philadelphia Bee Company and former president of the city's Beekeepers Guild. "If it's not wheat, corn, or soy, it's pollinated by bees."

Shump said invasive species are already responsible for steadily declining bee populations.

"Anything that causes stress to the honey bee industry is going to do harm to agriculture at large," Shump said.

Experts say the concern is whether or not there are established colonies on the West Coast that could determine how quickly the hornets can be taken out.

Experts also say better to report a possible sighting than to try and handle it yourself.