Also known as murder hornets because of their ability to quickly destroy honeybee colonies, these big bugs have only been found in a small corner of the country so far.
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By now, you've already heard the buzz about Asian giant hornets (also known as murder hornets). These pests recently turned up in the United States, and they've been getting a lot of attention thanks to their frightening name and reputation. Sure, they sound scary, but there's no reason to panic just yet, and you don't have to fear a swarm of them suddenly descending on your garden. So far, they’ve only been spotted in a small area of Washington State, and the main threat they pose is to honeybees, not humans. Researchers are also doing their best to keep them from spreading, so hopefully, you’ll never even see one in your yard.

side view of Asian Giant Hornet on a beige background
Credit: Kagenmi/Getty Images

As you've probably guessed from the name, Asian giant hornets aren't native to the U.S. (they're from Japan originally) and they are on the big side for a bug. Growing up to 2 inches long, they happen to be the largest species of hornet in the world (regular honeybees are usually just over half an inch). They're called murder hornets because of their ability to quickly decimate honeybee hives. The hornets, which eat other insects, can destroy an entire bee colony in just an hour or two. Not only can this be a huge problem for beekeepers, but it’s also concerning because the honeybee population in the U.S. has already been declining.

No one’s sure exactly how these hornets arrived in North America, but so far they’ve only been spotted in the northwest corner of Washington, Vancouver Island, and a southwestern corner of British Columbia (about 10 miles from where the hornets were spotted in Washington). The good news is there’s still time to contain them, or possibly eliminate them before they can spread.

More good news: The hornets aren’t active year-round and usually start looking for food in April, which means now is the perfect time to begin tracking them. In Washington, biologists and researchers have been setting traps in the area to locate the insects. The plan is to trap hornets, then mark them with an identification tag and release them again in the hopes that those individuals will reveal where their colonies are when they return. Then, the entire nest can be eliminated.

Right now, finding the colonies has been tricky because Asian giant hornets build their nests underground. They like living in wooded areas with low elevation, which makes Washington almost perfect for them. However, all of the buzzing in their nests can raise the temperature up to 86°F, so researchers are also looking into using thermal imaging to try to find their colonies, according to The New York Times.

Though murder hornets sound scary, there’s no reason to worry just yet. Though they don’t belong in the U.S., they’re still new here, and their population is small, which means biologists might still be able to contain them before they cause too much harm to bee colonies. For now, one of the best ways you can help is to support your local bee population by hanging a native bee house or filling your garden with nectar-rich plants that help pollinators.

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