About the ‘murder hornet’ or Vespa mandarinia
The Asian giant hornet, Vespa mandarinia, or AGH, is a large, predaceous hornet native to Asia, most commonly found in Japan and South Korea.
The AGH is the world’s largest hornet, slightly larger than the cicada killer wasp common in Texas. It was discovered for the first time in North America in August 2019 in British Columbia, Canada, and was located and eradicated in September 2019.
Two specimens were also collected near Blaine, Washington, in the northwest corner of the state. Efforts are underway this spring to trap hornets near Blaine and other sites where citizens have seen or collected hornets.
Until insects are trapped in the spring and summer of 2020, we won’t know if this species has adapted to the Pacific Northwest climate.
- Asian giant hornets have not been detected in Texas.
- Asian giant hornets are native to Japan.
- These hornets were discovered in fall 2019 in British Columbia, Canada, and in Washington State.
Can this hornet get to Texas?
The short answer is yes, most likely in shipping containers.
What threat does this hornet pose?
The most immediate threat is to the beekeeping industry. This insect is a specialized predator of honey bees in Asia. Because the Japanese honey bee co-evolved with the AGH, it has defensive behaviors that protect it from attack. However, the Japanese honey bee is not the same species used in the U.S. The European honey bee, the species used in the U.S., has no defense against the AGH. In a matter of hours, 15 to 30 AGH can kill a hive of honey bees containing 30,000 to 50,000 workers. The hornets then occupy the hive, kill the developing larvae and take this protein-rich meal to their nest.
In addition to the threat to bees and beekeepers, this large venomous insect (1.5 to 2 inches in length—or the size of your thumb) can deliver a powerful sting. Its venom is no more toxic than that of other stinging insects, but in Japan, the AGH kills 30 to 50 people a year.
- The AGH is a predator of honey bees.
- If established, this hornet could devastate honey bee populations.
- Honey bees are managed for both their honey and their pollination services.
- The AGH will aggressively defend its nest or any honey bee hive it occupies.
- Migratory beekeepers who move bees between Texas and the Western U.S. are not how the AGH would make it to Texas.
- Any honey bee hive occupied by AGH would be occupied by sterile workers, which cannot reproduce and begin a new colony.
What to do if you think you have spotted the Asian giant hornet
If possible, safely take a photo and send it to the Department of Entomology through the Online Insect Identification Form.
If you find a dead specimen that has a bright yellow head and is over 1.5 inches long, collect it and ship it to the Department of Entomology following instructions on the Form for Collecting and Shipping Specimens for Identification.
Management and biology
Our first line of defense are the many commercial and hobby beekeepers in the state of Texas. If they notice bee kills and observe these insects near a hive, they should contact the Texas Apiary Inspection Service for assistance.
Asian giant hornets do not construct an aerial nest. Instead, like many other hornets and yellow jackets, these hornets use an abandoned animal burrow to build their nest. This makes locating a nest very difficult. But locating and eradicating the Asian giant hornet nest in spring and summer is the goal. In fall, the nest begins to develop reproductives (males and virgin queens) that leave the nest. Only the mated queen overwinters. All other nest occupants die during the winter. The newly mated queen seeks shelter where she will pass the winter, emerging in spring to find a suitable nesting site to rear the initial set of sterile workers. Once the nest has a few dozen workers, the queen never leaves the nest again and the cycle starts over in the spring.
The AGH is a strong flier and can travel several miles. When a honey bee colony is attacked, an AGH colony is likely within 0.5 to 1.5 miles. A related hornet from Asia recently established in France and its rate of spread is about 60 miles per year. Since this range is beyond the flight distance of this species, human-aided movement is likely. Shipping containers are suspected as a key route of entry into North America. Another possible route of entry is by air transport. In Asia, AGH larvae are a prized delicacy and have been confiscated from luggage in airports.
The Asian Giant Hornet (AGH) has been confirmed to overwinter in Washington State and in British Columbia, Canada in mid to late May 2020. Specimens were found near Langley, B.C., Canada on May 15 and another specimen was found on May 27, by a resident near Custer, Washington as they were walking along a roadway and they observed a dead specimen. The specimen was collected and confirmed to be the AGH on 29 May by officials with the Washington State Department of Agriculture. Until a nest is located, Washington State officials are not considering this insect as “established”. It clearly is present and it survived the winter, but it has not yet reproduced – a requirement to be considered “established”.
There are no current sightings of the AGH in Texas and we know of no reported bee kills consistent with how this insect preys on honey bees.
Dr. David RagsdaleAssociate Director, Texas A&M AgriLife Research
Last updated on 2 June 2020