Story at a glance
- After Asian giant hornets were found in the United States, fear has grown over their threat.
- Dubbed "murder hornets," the insect doesn’t pose much of a risk to the general American population.
- Other insects, however, may be harmed in the response to this new species.
“Murder hornets,” as they’ve been dubbed by the New York Times, sound quite terrifying. But Americans might be in more danger of driving bees to extinction than being attacked by one, experts say.
In Washington, where the hornet first appeared, the Department of Agriculture is encouraging residents to set their own traps, but warns that residents of other states should not attempt to set these traps. Officials in Kentucky and Tennessee have also announced plans to set traps, although the species have not spread that far and experts say it's unlikely. All these precautions, however, pose a risk to native populations, one expert told The Los Angeles Times.
“Millions and millions of innocent native insects are going to die as a result of this,” Doug Yanega, senior museum scientist for the Department of Entomology at UC Riverside, told the L.A. Times. “Folks in China, Korea and Japan have lived side by side with these hornets for hundreds of years, and it has not caused the collapse of human society there. My colleagues in Japan, China and Korea are just rolling their eyes in disbelief at what kind of snowflakes we are.”
The bait in many of these traps is a mixture of orange juice and rice cooking wine, the LA Times reported, which is attractive to many insects, including bees. At the same time, the hornets themselves pose a threat to some insects, with The New York Times reporting a hive of bees destroyed just miles from where two Asian giant hornets were found in Washington.
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Bumblebees are important pollinators and vital to the country's ecosystem, but they have become endangered in recent years due to climate change. Beekeepers in Asia have developed tactics to keep the giant hornets out, and native honey bees are adapted to this threat. But there is plenty of room for error as the United States meets these insects for the first time.
Yanega told the L.A. Times, “I don’t want to downplay this — they are logistically dangerous insects. But having people in Tennessee worry about this is just ridiculous. The only people who should be bothering experts with concerns about wasp IDs are living in the northwest quadrant of Washington (state). And really, right now, nobody else in the country should even be thinking about this stuff.”
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