The Asian giant hornet. What's in a name?
May 2020- The name “Asian giant hornet” (Vespa mandarinia) is pretty descriptive—it accurately reveals the insect’s origin, size and the fact that it is a “true” hornet (a member of the genus Vespa). There are definitely examples of confusing or misleading insect names that perhaps should be altered (see example below), but in this case, the perfectly descriptive (and formidable) common name was apparently not scary enough to generate enough clicks/shares. Adding “murder” to the name has hijacked our collective ability to think about this insect in a non-sensational way because the word is such a powerful, unsettling and human term.
Let’s think about this insect without jumping to conclusions:
- This insect is potentially invasive and very dangerous, but that does not mean that it is currently established, or even that it is a foregone conclusion that it will become established in the United States. Even if it does become established, there is no evidence that suggests it is going to cause mass casualties; just like our beloved honey bees, Asian giant hornets are likely to sting when disturbed or if their nest is perceived to be threatened.
- This insect is potentially a threat to honey bees and other insects, but that does not mean that this species will instantly wipe out honey bees in North America. What will beekeepers do when presented with a new threat? They will adapt! Beekeepers in Japan have already been dealing with this species for many years, and it is widely known that bees in Japan have developed their own defenses against this species.
What we can do about a potential threat?
- We should educate ourselves! You could read 17 articles that all say the same thing, or find a source that goes beyond the fright factor. The USDA pest response guidelines is a great starting point for information about this insect.
- We should increase our vigilance. If we know what to look for, we can spot threats like these early. If you think you see an Asian giant hornet, please report it, but first take a look at this size comparison sheet from Washington State Department of Agriculture. Please let us know if you have any questions.
***Bonus material: Example of a slightly confusing insect name: the bald-faced hornet (Dolichovespula maculata). The bald-faced hornet is a local insect that is not even truly a hornet.The “bald-faced” in the name apparently refers to being “piebald”. Piebald (if you weren’t aware) means spotted or differently colored, especially black and white (which does accurately describe this insect’s appearance), but begs the questions, who dropped the “pie” and why?