URI scientist: Rhode Islanders don’t need to worry about ‘murder hornets’


In this Dec. 30, 2019, photo provided by the Washington State Department of Agriculture, a dead Asian giant hornet is photographed in a lab in Olympia, Wash. The world’s largest hornet, a 2-inch long killer with an appetite for honey bees, has been found in Washington state and entomologists are making plans to wipe it out. Dubbed the “Murder Hornet” by some, the Asian giant hornet has a sting that could be fatal to some humans. It is just now starting to emerge from hibernation. (Quinlyn Baine/Washington State Department of Agriculture via AP)

SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) — After news surfaced about so-called “murder hornets” arriving in the United States, it frightened people around the country.

Two murder hornets — which are actually named Asian giant hornets — were discovered in Washington state in December shortly after a nest was discovered in British Columbia, Canada.

University of Rhode Island entomologist Lisa Tewksbury said there is little reason Rhode Islanders need to worry about them.

“Their reputation as murder hornets comes from the fact that they can kill a lot of honeybees in a very short period of time,” Tewksbury explained. “The major concern about their arrival in North America is for the damage they could cause to commercial honeybees used for pollinating agricultural fields. They are capable of quickly destroying beehives.”

According to Tewksbury, the murder hornets are responsible for about 50 human deaths per year.

Their sting isn’t any more toxic than that of bees and hornets commonly found around New England, but due to their size, they can deliver a larger dose of toxin with each sting. They are only dangerous to humans when stung multiple times, Tewksbury added.

“But they’re not known to aggressively attack humans,” she continued. “It only happens occasionally and randomly.”

Tewksbury said it is unlikely the murder hornets are in Rhode Island or likely will be anytime soon — the concern is no one knows how the hornets made it to Washington.

“We don’t know the pathway it took to get to Washington, and since we don’t know, it’s difficult to know how to prevent further introductions into North America,” Tewksbury said.

She advised residents to keep an eye out for any unusual insect they’ve never seen before, since non-native insects do occasionally arrive in the area.

“Take a picture of it and report it to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management’s Invasive Species Sighting Form,” she said. “It could be something that we don’t know is here, and reporting it is the only way anyone would know.”

Report an exotic agricultural pest, invasive insect or plant »

Rhode Island is home to two hornets similar in size to the murder hornet, the cicada killer hornet — which dig their nests in sandy or light soil in areas like athletic fields and playgrounds — and the European hornet — a non-native species that have become acclimated in New England after its arrival here in the 1800s. The two are among the largest wasp-like insects in the world.

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