10 Surprising Facts About Murder Hornet
The Murder Hornet (Vespa mandarinia) is a predatory insect belonging to the insect family Vespidae. It’s native to the temperate and tropical regions of East, South, and Southeast Asia. According to fossil records, this species dates back to the Miocene period, around 23 million years ago. However, recently, there have been more and more sightings of this insect on the American continent, which is unusual.
The officially recognized name of this species is “Asian giant hornet” or “Japanese giant hornet”. However, the media refers to this insect as the “Murder Hornet” due to its outstanding hunting abilities. In this article, I’m going to discuss 10 of the most interesting facts about this species. From its murderous sprees to its unique quirks and abilities, we’ll cover it all in great detail.
1. They Make Up the Largest Hornet Species in the World
The Murder Hornet (Vespa mandarinia), also known as the Asian Giant Hornet, is the largest documented species in its genus (Vespa). They look similar to other hornets and are often mistaken for other species, particularly the European Hornet (Vespa crabro).
Like most other hornet species, the Murder Hornet has a long, stout, segmented body covered in dark brown and yellow stripes. It has a strong-looking black thorax covered in short fuzz. The head is large and bright-yellow colored, with big, dark eyes, long antennae, and large mandibles.
But its most readily distinguishable trait is its size. Compared to other hornet species which average 1 inch in size, the Murder Hornet can grow to up to 2 inches! Its stinger is ¼ inches long, and it also has a 3-inch-wide wingspan. Clearly not a foe to mess around with!
2. They Hunt in Groups
Most of the 30,000 identified wasp species are solitary. However, social wasps, such as hornets, are different. While Murder Hornets are perfectly capable of hunting alone, and they sometimes do, they can also hunt in groups, especially when they want to take down other insect colonies.
Murder Hornets like killing honeybees, yellow jackets, and even other social wasps, especially Paper Wasps. And they don’t stop at just killing a few wandering insects. Multiple Murder Hornets will gather together to perform orchestrated attacks on other insects’ colonies, destroying entire nests in one go.
This is usually the preferred method of hunting for Murder Wasps. They feed on large insects, particularly colonies of social insects, and even honey from honeybee nests. By taking down other insect nests, they procure a lot of resources, and multiple members can feed in the same place.
3. They Use Scent to Communicate to Other Hornets
Murder Hornets have other ways of communicating, but chemical communication is a very important element in their hunting strategy. When a single hornet discovers a new potential target for an attack, it marks the place with a special scent.
This scent is the result of a complex chemical cocktail that the wasp excretes from a special sternal organ, known as van der Vecht’s gland. Once placed on the target, this substance alerts other Murder Hornets of the location, and multiple members of the colony gather together to the area to begin their attack.
Think of it as the insect version of dropping a pin and sharing a location. That’s basically how it works. And not only does this communication strategy between hornets sound unique— it actually is unique! Murder Hornets are the only known wasp species that apply scent to food targets.
4. They’re Prolific Predators
This species of hornet is a born predator. Both the larvae and the adults need a high-protein diet. To meet their nutrition needs, Murder Hornets must be ready to take down various insects, ranging from medium to large.
A Murder Hornet could easily kill most insects, but it prefers mantises, yellow jackets, honeybees, and even other hornet and wasp species. When in action, these otherwise gentle insects turn into real killing machines.
Sometimes, Murder Hornets might even cannibalize each other’s colonies. But they seem to prefer beehives. Bees make the perfect prey for a Murder Hornet, because of their size inferiority, but also because they make honey. The larvae, pupae, and even adult bees make a great meal for Hornet larvae. Adult hornets also consume sugary foods, and honey is a very concentrated source of energy.
When attacking a beehive, a small number of Hornets (just under 50) is enough to completely wipe out tens of thousands of bees in just a few hours. Not only are Murder Hornets 5 times the size of the average bee, but they’re also swift and powerful.
They can fly quickly, and their mandibles are sharp and powerful enough to kill prey in one go. A single hornet can decimate up to 40 bees per minute, or 1 single bee every 1.5 seconds.
5. They Decapitate Their Prey Before Feeding
Murder Hornets have long curved stingers about 1/4 inch long. Their venom is also powerful enough to cause extreme pain even in humans. A Murder Hornet could easily kill its prey with just a simple sting. However, decapitation is still the preferred killing method, especially when hunting for food as opposed to fighting in self-defense.
Murder Hornets can use large and powerful mandibles to both immobilize and kill their prey a lot faster than with stinging. So, when destroying entire insect colonies, it makes sense that they’d prefer the faster and easier way. But there’s also another reason why decapitating the prey is the preferred strategy before feeding.
Most prey insects such as bees and other hornets have tough exoskeletons. Chewing through the hard skin of such bugs is not a problem for adult hornets. But Hornet larvae might need a little assistance. By removing the head off of its prey, both the adults and larvae have easier access to the softer and meatier portions inside the thorax.
When selecting food for their larvae, Murder Hornets dig out only the most nutritious body parts, especially the flight muscles.
6. They’re Exceptional Fliers
Sometimes, Murder Hornets must travel very long distances when searching for prey, particularly an insect colony. As a highly predatory species, they also need quick reflexes and high agility when hunting. Thus, it’s no surprise that Murder Hornets are amazing fliers. But what are the stats exactly?
Well, Murder Hornets can reach a flying speed of up to 25 mph. So, they can dart through the air pretty quickly. Of course, there are much faster-flying insects out there. But when compared to their chosen targets, Murder Hornets are still at a slight but important advantage. The average worker honeybee usually reaches a flight speed of up to 20 mph.
Bumblebees and yellow jackets have higher top speeds of 33 and 30 mph respectively. However, when comparing average flying speed, Hornets still come on top. While the average honeybee travels at 12 mph, Hornets fly at 14 mph on average. Bumblebees and yellow jackets have an average flight speed of 7 mph. Hornets also have incredible stamina. They can cover distances of up to 60 miles in a single day.
7. They Don’t Die After the First Sting
There’s a common misconception that once a bee or a wasp stings you, they’ll lose the stinger and die. But this only applies to honeybees, which are the only insects that lose their stinger. That’s because honeybees have barbed stingers that get stuck. Once locked in place, the stinger can’t come out, and the honeybee can’t free itself without damaging its body.
But other flying insects, especially wasps and hornets, can use their stinger repeatedly with no issue. A Murder Hornet won’t hesitate to use its stinger in self-defense or even when hunting for prey. After all, its venom is a great advantage because it can quickly paralyze prey, making it easier to kill.
If a Murder Hornet stings you, chances are, it will do so multiple times, trying to inject you with as much of its venom as possible. Luckily, they’re quite peaceful around humans. Unless the hornet feels threatened, or you’re too close to the hornet nest, they shouldn’t have any reason to attack you.
8. They Live in Colonies
Murder Hornets belong to the family of Vespidae, together with other hornet species, wasps, and yellow jackets. Of all the 30,000 members in this family, most of them are solitary. Such insects usually raise their larvae alone, or in a parasitic relationship with other insects. They also hunt and feed alone.
However, hornet species, including the Murder Hornet, are social insects. They live in large colonies of workers which are centered around a queen. The queen founds the nest and keeps the population in check by laying multiple eggs at a time.
Worker hornets work together to hunt and gather food, protect the nest, and feed the growing larvae. Murder Hornets also use complex means of communicating their location to other hornets in the nest. This way, they can quickly gather together to attack other insect nests and even rivaling hornet colonies.
9. They’re A Huge Threat to The Agriculture Industry
Native to the Asian continent, the Murder Hornet has become a source of increasing worry in the USA, especially for the agricultural sector. The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) started an outreach program in 2020, asking the general population to report sightings of the hornet to facilitate prompt action against this growing threat.
The Murder Hornet is a highly efficient predator. It can take down most pest insects, and even small rodents. But the preferred prey of this hornet is the honeybee. With an already declining honeybee population, this hornet species poses a great threat to the American agricultural system.
Honeybees play a crucial role in the pollination of many major crops. In fact, approximately one-third of the food Americans eat depends on honeybee pollination. Crops such as berries, apples, almonds, melons, pumpkins, squash, broccoli, sweet potatoes, and various greens are just some of the examples.
10. Their Sting Is Potentially Dangerous for Humans
Murder Hornets are very aggressive when provoked or defending their nest. They don’t typically attack humans without a reason, but it’s still important to be aware of the risks. Adult hornets can pose a threat to humans, and their sting might even lead to fatalities in some cases.
Although it’s rare, Murder Hornets can indeed kill. In Japan, where this species is native, roughly 20-50 people die every year due to this hornet’s venomous sting. To make matters worse, a single hornet can sting multiple times. On top of that, when attacking, Murder Hornets usually group together.
The venom is dangerous for people with allergies to bee and wasp stings. Given their size, Murder Hornets can deliver seven times the amount of venom of a regular bee sting. The sting of a Murder Hornet is also among the most painful in the world. People who had been stung by this insect describe the pain as “searing” and “excruciating”.
The Murder Hornet is the biggest hornet species in the world. They’re also unique in multiple other ways. They’re the only wasp species that use scent to mark food targets. They’re also some of the most successful predators in the world of insects.
Due to their ferocious appetite and their high kill count of honeybees, Murder Hornets are considered a dangerous pest. Although this species is native to the Asian continent, recent sightings in the USA have raised some alarm bells, especially concerning the agricultural sector.
Not only that, but they might even pose a direct threat to human health. Their large size contributes to one of the most painful stings in the world. They also deliver a very large dose of venom that can be fatal for people with bee and wasp allergies. Whichever way we look at it, it’s pretty clear that Murder Hornets are not good guys.