Will the ‘Murder Hornet’ Make its Way to Delaware?

By Scott Pruden

A University of Delaware entomologist weighs in on if locals can expect the Asian giant hornet to appear in the First State.

Michael Zaharuk

Asian giant hornets might sound scary, but a University of Delaware entomologist says they’re unlikely to make their way here.

In the cascade of bad news that made up March and April, probably the last thing anyone expected to show up on their global calamity bingo cards for May was “murder hornets.”

But the spring discovery of what’s formally known as the Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia) in Washington state didn’t take long to make the national news, thanks in part to the name, but also to the insect’s menacing proportions. Up to 2 inches long, it’s the largest hornet in the world and is a threat to honeybees, whose hives the hornets will attack in a spree of mass decapitation.

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But the news isn’t all bad, says UD’s veteran insect ecologist Doug Tallamy. Because the Asian giant hornet is a social insect, swarms tends to form a single colony and stay there throughout an entire season, which makes them easy to track.

“The chance that every colony can be located and eradicated is high, so my guess is it will never see the East Coast,” he says.

If Delawareans see something resembling the Asian giant hornet, it’s more likely its European cousin, a smaller invasive species that has made its home in the eastern U.S. for some time, he says.

What does concern Tallamy is yet another opportunity to demonize nature and the outdoors as dangerous and deadly.

“The thing that I’ve objected to from the start is it’s a continuation of our culture’s relationship to nature,” he says. “It sends the message that nature is out to kill us, and we better kill it first.”

Published as “Don’t Buy the Buzz” in the August 2020 issue of Delaware Today magazine.

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