Asian Giant Hornet:  Please Don’t Call It a “Murder Hornet”

By Dan Suiter, UGA Extension Entomologist and Mary Carol Sheffield, Paulding County UGA Extension
Although it has been dubbed the “Murder Hornet” in news reports and on social media, its real identity is the Asian giant hornet, Vespa mandarinia. News coverage is not traced to any recent event. The insect was found last September 2019 in Vancouver Island (Canada) and again in December 2019 in Washington State. However, to date, this invasive insect is not present in the state of Georgia, nor indeed, east of the Mississippi.
The Asian giant hornet is a “true” hornet and the world’s largest, ranging in size from 1.5 inches to slightly over 2 inches long (38-50mm). The stinger is nearly ¼-inch long and stings are extremely painful. Each year in Japan, 30-50 people die from being stung by these hornets. The venom is not the most lethal among bees and wasps, but due to the insect’s large size, the dose is larger than any other stinging insect Americans typically encounter. Human sting deaths are biased toward individuals who are prone to anaphylactic reactions or to individuals who receive large numbers of stings. One or a few stings from an Asian giant hornet should not be life threatening to an average individual.
The Asian giant hornet is not necessarily aggressive towards humans, livestock or pets, but will sting if provoked. However, this giant killer can inflict a devastating blow to honeybee colonies. There are three phases to an Asian giant hornet attacking a honeybee colony.
1. Hunting phase where individual hornets will capture bees at the entrance of the colony, cut off their heads, and form a “meat ball” from the thorax. They then return to their nest to feed their young this protein-rich meal.
2.  Slaughter phase. Hornets will mark a particular colony with a pheromone to recruit their sisters to the site. Then numerous hornets will descend upon the colony, killing all of the workers by ripping their heads off, dumping their bodies onto the ground below, and returning to their nest with their prey.
3.  Occupation phase. Hornets take over the hive, collect pupae and larvae, and return to their own nest to feed their carnivorous young. The hornets now guard the hive entrance as if it were their own nest.
At this time, there have been no confirmed cases of this hornet’s presence in Georgia or anywhere outside of Washington State. Other wasps and hornets in our state that may be confused with the Asian giant hornet are:
-Cicada killers, Sphecius speciosus, size range 0.6 – 2 inches long (15 – 50mm)
-European hornets, Vespa crabro, size range 1-1.4 inches (25-35mm)
-Southern yellowjackets, Vespula squamosa, size range 0.5inches (12mm)
-Baldfaced hornets, Dolichovespula maculata, size range 0.75 inches (19mm)
The Asian giant hornet and cicada killer are similar in size but very different in coloration. The Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health have put together an “Asian Giant Hornet and its SE US Lookalikes” photographic fact sheet (link below) which is extremely helpful for distinguishing between the different species in our state. 
At this time, we need to be vigilant, but not over-reactive. The Asian giant hornet has not journeyed east. However, suspected sightings and/or disturbances to honey bee colonies should be reported. If you think you have seen an Asian giant hornet or have a specimen, please contact Paulding County Extension. They will be able to collect your information and any specimens for identification. For photos and more in-depth information about the Asian giant hornet, please check out the following:
Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health Asian giant hornet and its SE US Lookalikes and Asian giant hornet fact sheet
Georgia Department of Agriculture
http://www.agr.georgia.gov/invasive-pests.aspx
For more information contact the Paulding County UGA Extension Office at 770-443-7616 or check us out online at www.ugaextension.org/paulding.