They’re called giant sparrow hornets, Asian giant hornets, and murder hornets.  Their bright black, yellow, and orange colors are eye-catching, but don’t let their colorful appearance lull you into a feeling of safety. These hornets are the world’s largest, and some grow to nearly three inches long. Their stingers are three quarters of an inch long. And they are much more aggressive than their US counterparts. 

Scientists believe they pose a serious danger to honey bees, agriculture, and, when they feel threatened, potentially to humans as well. And now they’ve reached the US.

Typically, these murder hornets are native to Japan. But some weeks ago, they were spotted in the Canadian province of British Columbia and even more recently have been seen in at least four areas of Washington State. In addition, “plundered” beehives at other Washington locations raise concern that there are additional pockets of them in the US. These sightings have set off alarm bells - and for good reason.

Experience beekeeper Ted McFall helps explain why. As he pulled up his truck to check on the hives he keeps in Custer, Washington, he saw many thousands of dead bees on the ground, their heads literally ripped from their bodies. McFall didn’t understand what was going on. It was only later that he figured out what had happened: They were attacked by murder hornets.

Their primary targets are honeybees. According to The New York Times, murder hornets could wipe out a hive in a matter of hours; they decapitate the honeybees and fly off with some of their insides, which they use to feed their offspring.

This is important not only to beekeepers but also to farmers and to ordinary people because honeybees play a big role in agriculture. 

CMS Business explains this phenomenon. “Honeybees pollinate crops, increase crop yields, and give rise to a lucrative honey industry. Bees are so important, in fact, that millions are spent renting hives to pollinate farmers’ crops.  Over one third of the food we eat relies on pollination by bees, either directly or indirectly.”

These hornets launch most of their attacks on bees in the late summer and early fall.

Military Precision

Murder hornets typically attack other honeybees and insects and a colony of them can kill 30,000 bees in just a few hours. Their attacks are carried out with the strategy and precision of a well-executed military campaign. 

Here’s what happens. The hornets send “scouts” to find a beehive. When the scouts find one, they mark it with a pheromone secreted from glands in their back legs, signaling to other hornets that they should gather there.

The honeybees try to defend their colonies, but are overpowered. The hornets then use powerful appendages near their mouths to chop up the bees and carry their remains back to their young.

Sometimes, the hornets attack small animals; one video showed them destroying a mouse in less than a minute. When feeling threatened, they will also attack humans. A sting is very painful, can penetrate beekeeping suits, and injects a venom potent enough to dissolve human flesh.

Canadian entomologist and beekeeper Conrad Berube learned this from firsthand experience. He was stung by one and described the sensation as feeling “like having red hot thumbtacks being driven into my flesh.”

Nathaniel “Coyote” Peterson, the host on an extreme nature show on YouTube, had an even worse experience when bitten by one. His reaction seconds later: “Oh man, waves of dizziness really quick. Oh, searing pain! Absolute searing pain!” A large welt immediately appeared on his arm. “Can’t touch near it! Sharp shooting pain if I touch near it,” he wailed.

In Japan, they are called “the great sparrow bee” because when flying, they look like a bird. According to Peterson, they have a 3-inch wing span and when approaching sound like an “Apache helicopter.”

Even scarier is the fact that they can sting numerous times and deliver seven times the amount of venom that a honeybee can - the equivalent to that of a venomous snake.

Multiple stings can be fatal, as the venom can shut down a person’s nervous system, and an allergic reaction may follow and cause anaphylactic shock. In Japan, where they are most often found, they kill several dozen people each year.

Search And Destroy Mission

The recent sightings of murder hornets in Canada and the US make this an entirely new ballgame and one that governments are trying desperately to win. That’s why scientists are searching for find evidence of them and want to eliminate them before they become firmly rooted in the US. 

In the words of the website Zero Hedge, “Should the invasive species be allowed to populate they could destroy the bee populations that are crucial to crop pollination... The risks to our ecosystem are surprisingly high. Murder bees could wipe out the population of most North American honeybees.”

“This is our window to keep it from establishing,” Chris Looney, an entomologist at the Washington State Department of Agriculture, told The Times. “If we can’t do it (soon) it probably can’t be done.”

From Out Of Nowhere

So how did these hornets get across the ocean and end up to North America?  That’s a very good question, and so far, scientists are not sure. Looney said in a video presentation that they may have been hibernating in a ship’s ballast or in a product that was transported from Asia to North America.

Another less likely scenario being considered is that someone may have transported them to the US to cultivate as a source of food. Some entrepreneur may have seen this as a money-making opportunity, as people in some Asian countries eat murder hornets and/or drink their juice because of their alleged healthful properties.

While scientists are pondering this question, Washington State is trying to find, trap, and destroy these hornets and their nests this spring and summer before the population begins to grow late in the summer.

At this moment murder hornets don’t appear to be an imminent threat; they’re not expected to cross the country and attack New York City any time soon. But nature has been unpredictable in recent years. There have been extreme droughts and unprecedented flooding, polar vortexes, and blistering heat that have been described as occurring once in a century, only to be followed by once-in-500-year events and others that were said to be once in a millennium. 

Within the last half year, parts of the world have suffered from extreme crises that have been described as Biblical in nature. For example, parts of Africa, the Mideast, and the Near East have suffered from swarms of locusts stretching for miles and devouring all farms in their path. More recently, these locust swarms have grown dramatically in size, and the locusts are now nine times the size they were just several months ago. With all these strange occurrences can anyone really be certain the killer hornets won’t take root in America and create havoc here?   

It’s mentioned in at least two places in Chumash that Hashem will send “tzira” as a punishment. ArtScroll translates this as a hornet, and commentators explain that they pursue people, sting them in their eyes, and inject venom. Killer hornets are not exactly the same thing, but the resemblance is close enough - and frightening. 

This is not the first time that the US has been threatened with killer bees or their like. About eight or ten years ago there was panic over Africanized honeybees - huge and super aggressive bees that experts warned would spread from South America across the US. Fortunately, that threat miraculously petered out and vanished. 

Let’s hope the same happens with killer hornets. Americans, after all, already have more than enough on their plates to worry about.



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Gerald Harris is a financial and feature writer. Gerald can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.