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Lynn Kimsey with a student Kathy Keatley Garvey/UC-Davis
University of California, Davis entomology professor Lynn Kimsey works with a student.

Giant hornet fears have 'no basis in reality,' scientist says

The UC's Lynn Kimsey sees no evidence that the erroneously dubbed 'murder hornet' is killing honey bees.

Noted hymenopterist Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology, University of California, Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, shed light on the Asian giant hornet in an interview with urban entomologist Michael Bentley on his BugBytes podcast.

Bentley serves as the director of training and education for the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), headquartered in Fairfax, Va., and hosts NPMA's BugBytes. Kimsey, a global authority on wasps, bees and other insects, is a two-term past president of the International Society of Hymenopterists.

Kimsey fielded questions on the history of the hornet, its biology, its range, its behavior, its stings, and the news media frenzy over two reported incidents in North America. A single colony of the Asian giant hornet (AGH), Vespa mandarinia, was found and destroyed Sept. 18, 2019 in Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, Canada, and a single dead hornet was found Dec. 8, 2019 in nearby Blaine, Wash. 

Concerned beekeepers worried that the hornets could become established and decimate their hives. Citizens throughout the country began reporting scores of "murder hornets," which turned out to be yellow jackets, European paper wasps, hover flies, hoverflies, moths and even a Jerusalem cricket (potato bug).  

Bugs tolerated in Asia

In the podcast, Kimsey relates that the Asian giant hornets are native to Asia, where the residents tolerate them. The beekeeping industry in Washington state, however, was "convinced that they are killing our honey bees," Kimsey told Bentley. "There's no basis in reality as far as I can tell," she said.

The Asian giant hornet is "one of about a dozen or so species in this genus," Kimsey said. She described them as "comically large and menacing looking."

The specimens in the Bohart Museum of Entomology are about 1.5 inches long. "I've never seen one two inches long. But it's a big animal--no question about it." 

Bentley also discussed entomologist Justin Schmidt's Sting Pain Index, which rates the painful stings of some 83 hymenopteran species.  

Kimsey agreed that the Asian giant hornet "can deliver a lot of venom" and "can sting repeatedly." But in her opinion, "the honey bee sting is the worst."

Other points Kimsey brought out included:

  • The Asian giant hornets probably arrived here in cargo ships
  • The larvae and pupae are restaurant-fare in some parts of Asia and are quite the delicacy
  • The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in fewer cargo ships arriving in the United States from Asia, and thus fewer opportunities for hitchhikers.

Related Links (UC Bug Squad blog)

Source: University of California, Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, which is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset. 
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