Tuesday, May 5, 2020

"Murder" Hornets? Not in Texas!

I'm very much cringing at the term "Murder Hornet" that has been sensationalized all over the media lately.  It's akin to calling Africanized Bees, Killer Bees and invokes so many misunderstandings and unneeded panic.

First, the Giant Asian Hornet, Vespa mandarinia, is NOT IN TEXAS.  And they are not "invading" the United States.  They were first found in late 2019 on the Canadian border and now in Washington State.  Last time I looked, Texas was a far way away from Canada!

Secondly, the aren't at all interested in murdering humans.  Yes, I'm sure you'll get stung if you mess with one, but that goes for all stinging insects.  These wasps search for other insects to feed their babies and apparently love to feed on honey bees, attacking colonies with the potential to kill them off. 

If you are a beekeeper in north Washington State, I think you have reason to be concerned.  But, here in Texas, lets just wait to panic until we know more about them and how and if they will spread.

These Giant Asian Hornets are very different from the wasps we have in Texas - and we do have several species of large wasps!  The main characteristic is their large, yellow face and huge body.  Here are a few species of wasps you are likely to encounter in our neck of the woods:

Cicada Wasp Killer -
Cicada Killer Wasp
Photo: Bart Drees

As the name indicates, these wasps kill and feed on cicadas.  Cicadas are a summer insect, therefore, these wasps show up around summer time.  The females sting and paralyze a cicada and drag it into a burrow, where it lays and egg and seals up the burrow so the larvae has a food source when it emerges.  They are extremely large wasps, but do not have the yellow face and colored differently.

Tarantula Hawk
Photo: Bart Drees

Tarantula Hawk Wasps -

Similar to Cicada Killers, these guys sting tarantulas and other spiders and bury them in burrows with their eggs, provisioning the burrow for their babies when they hatch.  They are usually metallic in color, some species have orange wings, but are very different in color and shape from the Asian Hornet.

Paper Wasp - Polistes falvus
Photo: Salvador Vitanza - El Paso County AgriLife Extension

Paper Wasps -

There are many species of paper wasps found in Texas.  These are much smaller wasps than the aforementioned above and the Asian Hornet.  But there is a species that I think could be confused for the Asian Hornet - Polistes flavus - which is a yellowish brown colored paper wasp, lighter than the common red wasp (Polistes carolina).  It does also appear to have a yellow face, but this wasp isn't a robust in size and certainly doesn't threaten honey bee colonies!