What Was Up with Those Murder Hornets?

(Last Updated On: November 26, 2020)

Sometime in the late spring to early summer of the absurdity of 2020, there was the brief murder hornet era (they arrived in late 2019 but whatever). Well… Not that the era has even ended, it’s just that American news landscape kind of exploded with the everything-else-that-happened-in-2020. Either way, giant hornets probably aren’t going to be on your list of problems anytime soon, but why not poke the nest and see what was up with the murder hornets?

Further Reading: What’s the Difference Between Bees, Hornets, and Wasps?

Should You Worry About Murder Hornets?

Unless you work with bees (we’ll get into it), lack common sense, or are allergic to their stings, you probably shouldn’t at all be concerned about murder hornets. If anything, they’re like a footnote filler arc to the disastrous sitcom of 2020.

But that doesn’t mean they can’t be dangerous to the layperson. Murder hornets are better known as the Asian giant hornet/Japanese giant hornet, which–unsurprisingly–are the world’s largest hornet. In Asia you might see them referred to simply as the giant hornet or giant sparrow wasp. How giant is the Asian giant hornet? Quite giant, clocking in at almost 2 inches head to stinger with a 3 inch wingspan. Their stingers alone are around a quarter inch long, which means an eighth of their body length is dedicated to their built in weapon.

Yes, hornet stingers can go through relatively thick clothing too. Including beekeeping suits. Layer up?

As wasps, they can also make liberal use of that weapon–since wasps can sting as many times as they want, and often sting repeatedly in swarms. You know, in opposition to just hitting you once and going away. 

Getting multiple stings from the Asian giant hornet is certainly painful–but most people get on fine after the pain and swelling goes away. However, allergic reactions obviously present a huge problem. In Japan fatalities number quite low, in the 10s and 20s. China saw a little over 40 fatalities in 2013, which made headlines back then as well.

Don’t Get Unlucky

So we’ve outlined that you’re probably not going to die from an Asian giant hornet (allergies notwithstanding). But that doesn’t mean you should go annoying them with reckless abandon, because dying from the stings of the Asian giant hornet is not a good way to go.

Many who seek emergency attention due to stings do so because of anaphylactic shock/cardiac arrest, and other symptoms in line with allergic reactions

Unfortunately for us, murder hornet stings have also caused a few deaths through multiple organ failure. Which is, without saying, a very bad time. Even more rare is necrosis and excessive bleeding of the skin. Also known as you bleed a lot and your living fleshy bits start rotting off in real time. 

There’s a pretty strong correlation with the number of stings and symptom severity, but that’s kind of a logical conclusion. 

So Then Who Should Worry?

As not-fun as hornet stings sound, you really shouldn’t worry about the Asian giant hornet at all. Even if you live in the Pacific Northwest, where they are largely concentrated in America (and where Americans probably freaked out the most). 

Some of creatures are less fortunate though, and you probably knew that based on like… Middle school biology. The Asian giant hornet really doesn’t like honeybees, and outside of Asia they’re an invasive species. No like, they really don’t like honeybees. Asian giant hornets can kill up to 40 per minute, and do so with a swift decapitation. This kills the bee. Given that the Asian giant hornet is 5 times the size of the honeybees, just a couple can absolutely crush a hive. What do they do with the bodies? Well they leave the heads behind and bring the rest of home to feed the young. Metal.

In Japan, where they’re native, it’s less of a problem for the bees. They have a (quite cool) defense mechanism to combat hornets with murderous intent. It’s actually quite hot. Japanese worker honeybees can survive at temperatures above angry invaders. They’ll dogpile invading wasps and just vibrate–which makes things hotter. The bees can produce temperatures around 47 degrees Celsius (116 in Fahrenheit), effectively cooking the invaders alive. It’s important they do so too–escaping giant hornets scouts will just bring the wrath of their nests next time around. 

Unfortunately for bees outside of Asia, they have not learned this technique. Given that Western honeybees are already not having a good time, the introduction of an invasive wasp is probably the last thing honeybees want to deal with. Being so large, Asian giant hornets are also ready to pick fights (and win!) with other bugs given that they thrive off of tree sap and honey. 

Further Reading: Why Are Honeybees Dying and What Impact Does It Have?

Point is, don’t worry too much about killer hornets, you’re not going to have to deal with them. Unless you’re a bee or a beekeeper, in which case we’re sorry.

So we know angry hornets and sad bees, but what about spelling bees? Check it out here.



About Kyler 727 Articles
Kyler is a content writer at Sporcle living in Seattle, and is currently studying at the University of Washington School of Law. He's been writing for Sporcle since 2019; sometimes the blog is an excellent platform to answer random personal questions he has about the world. Most of his free time is spent drinking black coffee like water.