top of page

The murders and murdering of the Murder Hornet

So the Murder Hornet has shot into prominence of late, largely because it has found its way to the United States for the first time. Oh, and obviously because it has such an attention-catching name. This is an example of how our minds rely on heuristics to filter out information - "Murder" just makes us take notice.  If the Murder Hornet went about by its Latin Name - Vespa Mandarinia, I would wager that it would receive at least 10 times less attention


The most obvious concern about the Murder Hornet is unfounded - it's very unlikely you meet one; in the rare chance you do encounter one, it's very unlikely to attack you; in the event it does attack you, the sting is extremely painful but the chance of you dying or suffering a serious injury is minuscule, unless you are innately allergic to the hornet's venom. 

So that's out of the way, we can go on to the interesting bits:

  • The Murder Hornet is native to Asia, especially Northern East Asia - Japan in particular, but also China, Taiwan, Korea, and Russia, where it's more commonly known as the giant hornet, giant tiger head bee, or the giant sparrow bee, much less controversial names. 

  • The Murder Hornet is truly quite the murderer. For food, it would kill and munch up some of the biggest insects around, including other hornets (it is a cannibal and would attack the colonies of other murder hornets) and praying mantises (themselves a very formidable predator). But mostly, its favourite prey are bees and bee larvae.  

  • The picture above shows the Murder Hornet decapitating several honey bees.  Bees are much smaller, and their stings have no effect. In contrast, the Murder Hornet is able to kill 40 bees per minute, often in the most violent ways. In just a few hours, a few  Murder Hornets can decimate an entire colony of thousands of bees.

  • The European version of the honey bee is particularly helpless. Because the Murder Hornet lives in Asia, and the European honey bee in Western continents, the 2 species have not crossed paths. The European honey has not developed any means to defend itself against the Murder Hornet. 

  • Bees are incredibly important in the natural cycle. Pollination of vegetation is dependent on bees. Without bees, there would be a significant decrease in vegetation growth, which screws up the entire ecosystem. 

  • This is why the sight of Murder Hornets in the United States has raised such alarm among biologists. Just a small number of Murder Hornets carried over can destroy large numbers of bees.

  • We talked about the European version of the honey bee. The Asian honey bee, having co-existed with the Murder Hornet, is much more resilient. 

  • Murder Hornets often send scouts to find beehives. These scouts are usually on solo missions, and their job is to find a hive, and release pheromones so that other hornets can subsequently find the hive. 

  • While no attacks can work on the hornet, the Asian honey bee has devised a most remarkable defence mechanism

  • They would surround the Hornet in large numbers - up to hundreds. And then they would start flapping their wings as vigorously as they can. And in the most remarkable manifestation of the conservation of energy - the kinetic energy from the flapping wings is converted into heat energy. The temperature around the hornet can rise up beyond 46 degrees celsius, effecting cooking the hornet and killing it. This prevents the pheromones from ever being released, and the location of the beehive dies with the murdered Murder Hornet. This incredible defence is captured in the National Geographic clip below. Nature is amazing!

bottom of page