Harmless look-alike bugs heighten ‘murder hornet’ worries

CASCADE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The year 2020 has been filled with unexpected revelations like the “murder hornet” arriving in the pacific northwest.

The large hornets carries 20 times the amount of venom as a honeybee.

In emails sent to News 8’s newsroom and posts on social media, many have worried of the Asian giant hornet spreading to West Michigan.

The bad news is the so-called murder hornet has a twin, the cicada killer wasp, and that’s got a lot of people worried. The good news is the look-alike is harmless.

“Those are totally harmless insects. They kill cicadas obviously,” said Dr. Matt Douglas, an entomologist at Grand Rapids Community College. “And the problem is people can’t identify a bumblebee from an Italian bee from a wasp from a hornet.”

The actual murder hornet conjures an image right out of a horror film — The giant bug with huge eyes has a quarter-inch stinger.

But Douglas says so far, they don’t appear to travel well.   

“It came in. Established a few populations in the Pacific Coast — there in the Northwest Pacific Coast. It hasn’t moved, and they are working very diligently on destroying it,” Douglas said.

The confusion over the murder hornet and the look-alike are understandable at first glance: Cicada killer wasps are also large bugs.

But a closer look reveals the differences, starting with the size of the murder hornet’s head.

“The head is enormous compared to the shoulders, the wings come out of the shoulder area, the eyes are huge and the whole face is kind of yellowish,” Douglas said.

Cicada killers are about half that size and are black and brownish in color.

A Cicada killer wasp. (Courtesy)

And the confusion isn’t limited to Michigan

Texas A&M’s AgriLife Magazine recently published a story on lookalike concerns in Texas, and an illustrated explanation on the differences.

While they look like their more sinister distant cousins, you may want to keep the cicada killer wasps around.   

Cicadas can cause damage to trees when they plant their eggs in small branches.  

“They make a slit and they put an egg in there and that weakens the whole thing, and it just falls off,” Douglas said. “So, if you want fewer cicadas, which will damage your trees, you might want to have a population of cicada killers.”