Asian Giant Hornet or Not? That Is the Question

— Written By

You have probably seen some “buzz” on the news about Asian Giant Hornets. So what are these bees and do we need to be concerned?

Asian Giant Hornet (Vespa mandarinia) is a bee that lives up to its names because the queens are more than 2” long while the workers are about 1 ½” long, making these bees among the largest in the world. The “murder hornet” as it has been nicknamed in the media refers to their reputation as a pest because they can attack and potentially destroy honeybee colonies.

So where are these giant “murder hornets”? So far, the only reports of the Asian giant hornet in North America is from the Pacific Northwest and southwestern Canada (2019). It is believed that colonies in both of these locations have been eradicated. As the name suggest, the Asian Giant Hornet is native to temperate and tropical eastern Asia, including parts of Japan, China, India, and Sri Lanka.

Asian Giant Hornets typically build their nests underground, usually in abandoned rodent burrows in forests while aerial nests are rare. They have bright yellow heads, a black thorax, and yellow and black/brown striped abdomens.

There are several other types of bees that are often mistaken for the Asian Giant Hornet. European hornets are probably the one bee being most mistaken. European hornets are similar in size, shape, and color to the Asian Giant Hornet. However, they can be distinguished by the European hornet having yellow abdomens with rows of black teardrops while the Asian Giant Hornet has banded yellow, black, and brown abdomens. The European hornet will also have reddish brown thorax while Asian Giant Hornets have mostly black thorax with a yellow spot between the wings.

Yellowjackets are also sometimes mistaken for the Asian Giant Hornet. Most yellowjackets have abdomens that are banded with yellow and black but are smaller in size (up to 0.5 inches). The queen southern yellowjackets are larger (up to 0.65 inches) but still much smaller in size than the Asian Giant Hornet (1.5 to 2 inches in size).

NC State University Entomology has an excellent visual comparison guide for insects that might be confused for the Asian Giant Hornet.

The good news is that these hornets are NOT in North Carolina. Asian Giant Hornets are not an issue for us and will not likely be one in the near future barring some accidental introduction (as was likely the case in Washington state).

Jessica Strickland is an Agriculture Extension Agent, specializing in horticulture for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Wayne County.

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