Why Is the Asian Giant Hornet a Threat to the US?
May 28 2020 Read 1071 Times
A huge insect is causing a storm among the scientific community and the mainstream media alike. The Asian giant hornet, sometimes known as the “murder hornet”, is the largest of its kind in the world and carries strong venom. If provoked, it can deliver multiple poisonous stings to a human, injecting enough venom into their body to kill them.
Its biggest prey, however, is the European honeybee. Far smaller than the hornet, the bee has become victimised since the latter’s introduction into its territory and stands no chance of survival in the face of its lengthy stinger and sharp mandibles. As a result, local officials in Washington state have appealed to private citizens to assist in their efforts to contain the species by setting homemade hornet traps in and around their homes.
Similar in size to an adult thumb, the Asian giant hornet is distinguishable by its orange and yellow head. Rather gruesomely, they are known to decapitate bees as they plunder their hives for honey, so headless insects are a telltale sign that they have been in the area. Although they are most dangerous towards the close of summer, April is when they begin to appear in large numbers.
“It’s a shockingly large hornet,” explains Todd Murray, an entomologist at Washington State University. “It’s a health hazard, and more importantly, a significant predator of honeybees. We need to teach people how to recognise and identify this hornet while populations are small, so that we can eradicate it while we still have a chance.”
Bees under attack
While the hornet is known to kill as many as 50 people per year in its native Japan, it’s not normally aggressive towards humans unless it is attacked. Bees, on the other hand, constitute its main quarry and the hapless pollinator is little match for the marauding intruder.
Bee populations have already been under a great deal of strain in recent years. With their numbers in seemingly chronic decline, they have suffered from intensive farming and deforestation of the land that used to comprise their habitats, while overuse of harmful pesticides is a further threat to their ongoing survival. In 2017, bees overcame opposition from the Trump administration to make it onto the endangered species list.
A sign of the times?
With our daily lives currently thrown into disarray by the ongoing pandemic and the scientific community preoccupied with finding ways to tackle the spread of coronavirus, some observers have regarded the influx of “murder hornets” as simply one more omen of a coming apocalypse.
In the wake of a New York Times article publicising the issue, social media caught aflame with users hailing 2020’s pandemic, war and famine as evidence of the end of the world. “Whomever had murder by hornet on their apocalypse bingo card, please step forward to collect your winnings,” quipped Kaz Weida, a freelance journalist in the US.
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