Asian Giant Hornet: Nature's Largest Hornet
User avatar
Curated by
5 min read
21 days ago
The Asian giant hornet, also known as the northern giant hornet or murder hornet, is the world's largest hornet species native to temperate and tropical regions of East Asia, South Asia, and the Russian Far East. In 2019, this invasive pest was detected for the first time in North America, raising concerns about the potential threats it poses to honey bees and native ecosystems.

Appearance and Nicknames of the Asian Giant Hornet
The Asian giant hornet, also known as the Japanese giant hornet or northern giant hornet, is the world's largest hornet species. Sensationalized by the media as the "murder hornet," this insect measures 1.5 to 2 inches in length with a wingspan around 3 inches. The hornet has a distinctive appearance, with a large yellow-orange head contrasting with dark brown to black eyes and a black thorax. Its abdomen alternates between bands of dark brown or black and a yellow-orange hue matching its head color. The Asian giant hornet's stinger is typically 1/4 inch long and delivers a potent, potentially life-threatening venom if multiple hornets sting simultaneously. favicon favicon
2 sources

Habitat and Distribution
The Asian giant hornet is native to temperate and tropical regions of East Asia, South Asia, and parts of the Russian Far East, including Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Nepal, India, and Sri Lanka. Within its native range, this hornet prefers low mountains and forests, while almost completely avoiding plains and high-altitude climates. Asian giant hornets create nests by digging, co-opting pre-existing tunnels dug by rodents, or occupying spaces near rotten pine roots. In 2019, the Asian giant hornet was found for the first time in North America in the Pacific Northwest, with sightings confirmed in British Columbia, Canada and Washington state. Additional sightings and nest discoveries continued in this region through 2021, raising concerns about the hornet becoming an invasive species, although there were no confirmed sightings by the end of 2022. Eradication efforts are underway to prevent the Asian giant hornet from establishing and spreading in North America. favicon
insectlab.russell.wisc favicon favicon
5 sources

Hornet Colony Hierarchy
Asian giant hornets are social insects that form colonies with a caste system consisting of a queen, workers, and juveniles. The queen is responsible for egg-laying, while the workers perform tasks such as nest construction, caring for the young, and foraging for food. Nests are typically built underground in pre-existing cavities like rodent burrows or hollow tree roots, although some nests have been observed in man-made structures like sheds. The nest itself is constructed from chewed wood fibers mixed with saliva, forming a papery material arranged in layers with a single entrance hole. Inside the nest, cell cakes contain the developing brood. Asian giant hornet colonies follow an annual cycle, with inseminated queens emerging in spring to establish new nests, workers emerging in summer to expand the nest and colony, and reproductive individuals emerging in late summer to mate before the colony dies off in winter. favicon
cms.agr.wa favicon favicon
3 sources

Impact on Local Ecosystems
The Asian giant hornet is a significant threat to local ecosystems in North America. As an apex predator, it preys on a wide variety of insects, including important pollinators like honey bees, bumble bees, and native wasps. During the "slaughter phase" in early summer, Asian giant hornets can destroy entire honey bee colonies, feeding on the bee larvae. This predation could have devastating impacts on the beekeeping industry, crop pollination, and the balance of local insect populations. Ecological niche modeling suggests that if Asian giant hornets become established, they could colonize large portions of the United States, putting over 95,000 honey bee colonies at risk and potentially causing economic losses exceeding $113 million per year. favicon favicon favicon
5 sources

Comparison with Native Hornet Species
The Asian giant hornet is significantly larger than native hornet species in North America, measuring 1.5 to 2 inches in length. In comparison, the European hornet, which is found in the eastern United States, ranges from 1 to 1.5 inches long and has brown to black "teardrop" markings on its yellow abdomen. Cicada killers, another large native wasp, grow up to 1.5 inches but have irregular, jagged stripes on their abdomens rather than the smooth, distinct stripes of the Asian giant hornet. The bald-faced hornet, common in the southeastern U.S., only reaches 0.75 inches and has a mostly black abdomen with white markings. While these native species may appear similar at first glance, the Asian giant hornet's large size, bright orange head contrasting with its dark thorax, and distinct abdominal stripes set it apart. favicon favicon favicon
3 sources

Geographic Distribution
The Asian giant hornet has a wide native range across Asia, but recent sightings in North America have raised concerns about this invasive species becoming established outside its native habitat.
Native RangeNorth American Sightings
Russia (Primorsky Krai, southern Khabarovsk Krai, Jewish Autonomous Oblast)First confirmed sightings in 2019 near Vancouver, Canada and Whatcom County, Washington
Korean PeninsulaNests found and eradicated in Washington in 2020 and 2021
Mainland China, TaiwanDead specimen found in Snohomish County, WA in June 2021, suggesting a third separate introduction
Japan, where it prefers rural areas and is called the ōsuzumebachiNo confirmed sightings in Washington state in 2022
Southeast Asia (Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam)Genetic analysis indicates separate introductions from Japanese and South Korean populations
South Asia (Nepal, India, Sri Lanka)Potential to spread northward into British Columbia and Alaska, and southward to Oregon if established
In its native range, the Asian giant hornet is found in low mountains and forests, avoiding plains and high altitudes. The species has been sensationalized as the "murder hornet" by some media outlets in Japan since at least 2008. Authorities in the Pacific Northwest are working to prevent the Asian giant hornet from becoming established, as it could threaten honey bees and native ecosystems. Eradication efforts, including destroying nests and setting traps, are underway in Washington state and British Columbia. The lack of genetic diversity in the invasive population may make it more vulnerable to eradication. If no further sightings occur through 2024, the WSDA may declare the species eradicated in Washington. favicon favicon favicon
5 sources

Eradication Efforts in North America

Eradication efforts are underway to prevent the Asian giant hornet from becoming established in North America. In Washington state, where the first confirmed sightings occurred, the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) has been actively tracking and destroying hornet nests. In 2020, the WSDA successfully eradicated the first known Asian giant hornet nest in the United States using vacuum extraction. Trapping efforts have also been implemented to detect and monitor the spread of the hornets. In Canada, the government of British Columbia is working closely with Washington state officials to coordinate eradication efforts along the border. These rapid response actions are critical to preventing the Asian giant hornet from gaining a foothold and spreading throughout North America, which could have severe ecological and economic consequences. favicon
ncbi.nlm.nih favicon favicon
5 sources

Closing Thoughts
The Asian giant hornet is an opportunistic omnivore with a broad diet that includes tree sap, soft fruits, and a wide range of insect prey such as beetles, spiders, and other social wasps. However, it is most notorious for its mass attacks on honey bee colonies, in which groups of hornets kill the adult bees, occupy the hive, and feed on the bee larvae and pupae. The hornets chew their prey into "meatballs" that are transported back to the nest to feed the developing hornet larvae. While these attacks can cause severe short-term damage to honey bee colonies, the long-term ecological impacts of V. mandarinia as an invasive species are still being researched. If established in North America, this hornet could pose a significant threat to honey bees, native insect populations, and agricultural systems that rely on pollination services. favicon favicon favicon
5 sources
what are some other insects that asian giant hornets prey on
how do asian giant hornets affect other insect populations
what are some potential long-term effects of asian giant hornet infestations on ecosystems