The Asian giant hornet, or murder hornet, which was first detected in Western Canada last fall, could spread rapidly across North America if eradication efforts are not undertaken, according to a study by entomologists.
The proliferation of the invasive species could be devastating to bee populations, since the hornet decapitates bees and feeds the heads to its larvae.
The study was published Tuesday by researchers from Washington State University and the Washington State Department of Agriculture in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It focuses on the environments the hornet thrives in: “areas with warm to cool annual mean temperature, high precipitation, and high human activity.”
“Dispersal simulations also show that (the Asian giant hornet) could rapidly spread throughout western North America without containment,” the study says. “Given its potential negative impacts and capacity for spread, extensive monitoring and eradication efforts throughout western North America are warranted.”
“This could be, if it were to become established, one of the most damaging invasive species that we could almost imagine,” Washington State entomologist David Crowder, an author of the study, told the New York Post.
The hornet, which can grow up to 2 inches in length with a 3-inch wingspan and is noticeable for its orange face with teardrop eyes, gets it nickname from a literal translation of a name popular in Japanese media outlets that was used in a report by The New York Times.
The hornets, which have been shown to be very defensive, also are “medically important, delivering painful stings with cytolytic (cell-killing) venom,” according to the study.
The research team determined the potential spread of the hornets by analyzing more than 200 records from the insects’ native habitat in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan and combined it with climate data to determine their ideal habitat across six continents.
The warnings of the Asian giant hornet harken to the concerns raised about “killer bees” – or Africanized bees, which were European honeybees crossbred with African bees in Brazil in the 1950s in an attempt to increase honey production. The more aggressive “killer bees” have been known to kill at least 1,000 humans and arrived in the United States in the 1990s.