Arrival of ‘Murder Hornets’ in US has beekeepers worried

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Just when you thought you had enough to worry about, the “Murder Hornets” are coming. 

The giant Asian hornets have been found in Washington state. They look like a caricature of every big bad bug you might have experienced in a nightmare, with freakish looking eyes and a stinger.

“Our native hornets and wasps are a quarter to a half the size. It’s like these things are huge,” said Gard Otis, a retired University of Guelph-Ontario professor. “They have a stinger that’s about a quarter of an inch long. And enough venom, about 20 times the venom of a honeybee.”

He says in rare instances, the hornets can kill a human if stung multiple times.

“If you’re not disturbing the nest, if they’re just out and about foraging, they’re not going to attack anybody. They’re very gentle,” Otis said.

But the big concern is the Asian giant hornet’s prey: the bee population. 

“In terms of risk, honeybee keepers and honeybees are probably at the top of the list,” Michigan State University Professor Howard Russell said. “They’ll kill all of the adults in a given hive and occupy the colony and feed on the brood for a couple of weeks or so.”

That could create a domino effect across the country and right here in West Michigan.

“All of the tree fruit crops are bee-pollinated, as well as many vegetables too — the cucumbers, small fruits,” Russell said.

So far, the hornets have been found in Washington state. Experts don’t know how well they travel on their own. What worries Russell is the hornets hitching a ride.

“It certainly didn’t fly to Washington and British Columbia from Asia. It had to have some help getting here,” Russell said.

Another unknown: Can it survive a Michigan winter? Otis said that while it seems to be a tropical bug, it may have survived colder weather in Asia.

Russell said the best way to deal with the hornet is to track it and stop it in the Pacific Northwest before it has a chance to travel.

“They’re going to try to locate colonies. They’re going to set traps to limit how far it spread,” Russell said. “Hopefully, it won’t show up here for quite a while.”