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Just When You Thought It Was Safe: Asian Murder Hornets

Coronavirus cases are trending down in many places, people are going back to work. Then, just when you thought it was safe to leave isolation, the Asian Murder Hornets show up.

The vicious insects, which can grow to two inches long, have stingers that are long enough to puncture beekeeper suits and venom is so potent that victims say it feels like being stabbed with hot metal. If that weren’t enough, the hornets use mandibles shaped like shark fins to decapitate and kill normal bees, wiping out honeybee hives in a matter of hours.

A brutal video on Twitter depicted a Murder Hornet in action against a mouse.

The hornets are now showing up in Washington State reports The New York Times. After two of the insects were discovered last December, state officials and local beekeepers embarked on a search to find the hive and determine the extent of the threat.

“Most people are scared to get stung by them,” said beekeeper Ruthie Danielsen. “We’re scared that they are going to totally destroy our hives.”

Ed Yong, science writer at The Atlantic, notes that Japanese honeybees have a defense against an attack by the hornets. The bees create a “heatball,” swarming the attacking hornets and vibrating their wings. The activity raises both the temperature and carbon dioxide levels, choking the hornet. American honeybees apparently have no such defense.

The hornets kill up to 50 people per year in Japan. Like killer bees, the hornets are very aggressive and often attack in groups. Several stings can expose victims to toxic venom equivalent to a snakebite and can be fatal.

Subsequent discoveries of additional hornets in Canada compounded the problem. Scientists believe that there were at least two separate introductions of the hornets into North America.

Scientists are now exploring the use of thermal imaging to locate additional nests since the temperature inside the hives is often warmer than surrounding ambient temperatures. Researchers have also put out traps and may try to use a radio-frequency identification (RFID) tag to track captured hornets as they return to the nest. The large size of the hornet makes them able to fly with such trackers.

The full extent of the Murder Hornet infestation is not yet known, but there is limited time to root out the nests of the invaders and destroy them before they become too established. If the hornets cannot be eradicated quickly, they may spread throughout North America, killing honeybees and endangering people as they go.

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