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Enlighten Me: Murder Hornet's sting not likely to be felt in Delaware

Washington State Dept. of Agriculture

Recently, Asian giant hornets have quickly gained fame, or infamy, in the U.S. as reports that a couple of the so-called ‘murder hornets’ -  capable of wiping out and entire bee hive - were found dead in Pacific Northwest.

What threat might they pose to Delaware’s growing beekeeper population and their prized hives?

Delaware Public Media’s Mark Fowser has more in this week’s Enlighten Me

It has a name right out of Hollywood, and in this year of the pandemic the Giant Asian Hornet has gained the nickname of the "Murder Hornet." Its size has been compared to a credit card, your thumb, or the palm of your hand.

The Murder Hornet has also been known to decimate honeybee hive populations by lopping off their heads.

Delaware beekeepers, however, do not need to be overly concerned.

Kathy Hossler of Smyrna, who keeps bees in her yard and is President of the Delaware Beekeepers Association, said she was already aware of the giant hornet's murderous reputation. She's been able to learn about that from a safe distance - the "murder hornet" has turned up in small numbers so far in Washington State and in western Canada.

Of more concern to Hossler is the threat posed to the honeybee population by parasites, such as the Varroa Mite.

Credit Kathy Hossler
Photo courtesy of Kathy Hossler

"They'll feed on the bee, and they'll feed even more importantly on the developing larvae," Hossler said. "The might will get inside the cell of a developing bee and lay eggs. Those eggs will hatch and they'll feed on the developing larvae. That larvae can emerge unhealthy. They also transmit a lot of viruses."

University of Delaware Professor of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology Doug Tallamy said the giant Asian hornet was expected to be rather easily located and eradicated. While the "murder hornet" has been known to be harmful to humans, Tallamy said such an encounter would be extremely rare even in vicinities where they have turned up.

"The chances of being stung are very slim. The colonies are small. You would have to stumble across a colony accidently. You would have to be very unlucky, in other words," Tallamy said.

The professor also took issue with labeling the insect as a "murder hornet."

"If we really want to label an animal 'murder,' let's call the house cat a 'murder cat,' because it kills two to three billion birds a year," Tallamy said. "We don't seen to care about that. But, oh, we got a hornet, we've got to sensationalize it."

"There's nothing Delaware beekeepers should be worried about at this point."