Image of a giant hornet

Asian Giant Hornets can be over four centimetres long!

Credit: Wikimedia commons/Yasunori Koide CC-BY-SA 3.0

By Andrea Wild

Are killer hornets really on the loose in North America?

Asian Giant Hornets are a species of wasp, Vespa mandarinia. They normally live in Japan, China and Southeast Asia. But late last year they arrived in Canada and the USA, probably inside a shipping container. It only takes one hornet to start a new colony and take over an entire continent!

Why are they so scary?

Asian Giant Hornets are the world’s largest hornet. They’re about 4.5 centimetres long, approximately four times the length of honey bees.

“The bad news is the stinger is also four times the length of that of a bee or wasp,” says Dr Mike Hodda of CSIRO. “The even worse news is that they inject maybe seven times the venom. Unlike honey bees, these hornets can sting multiple times and will attack in groups.”

Hornets injure and kill people every year, but luckily, we’re not their main target.

Asian Giant Hornets feed on other insects and can take over bee hives. A single hornet can bite the heads off 40 honey bees every minute!

Person looking at insect collection pinned in boxes.

The Australian National Insect Collection at CSIRO has collections of pest insects and their Australian look alikes.

Credit: CSIRO

“Often they hunt alone, but during the ‘slaughter and occupation phase’ of their life cycle, they attack in groups and use their large powerful jaws to bite their heads off other insects. This is why they are also known as ‘murder hornets’,” says Mike.

This can be a disaster for bee keepers, who keep hives of European honey bees to produce honey and to pollinate crops and fruit trees. It can also be a disaster for native bees.

They aren’t in Australia

The good news is that murder hornets aren’t in Australia. If they do arrive here they could harm our 1500 species of native bees. Native bees help pollinate our crops and our native flowers and trees.

CSIRO is helping keep them out

CSIRO is helping stop insects like hornets from entering Australia.

“We are working with industry to develop drones that can detect insects while flying around ships,” says Mike. “We’re also working on tests to detect tiny amounts of DNA and artificial intelligence to recognise pests.

“Human intelligence is important, too, so we are studying the basic biology of insects and training inspectors to recognise them.”

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One response

  1. Billy Moir Avatar
    Billy Moir

    There are so many scary possibilities for insect infestation. We have a nest of local bees nesting in some old scaffolding pipe in the shade house we have left it untouched for years.
    The Aborigines call it sugar bag”.

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