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No One Is Talking About Murder Hornets Anymore, but Should We?

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With a global pandemic, racial tensions running high, and an upcoming election hanging in the balance, who really has the time to even think about the once very-much-talked-about murder hornets, aka the Asian giant hornet?

Things in the U.S. have been just a little too intense to wonder if a giant bug is going to kill us all, but should we still be worried? Whatever happened to them since no one seems to be talking about it anymore?

Murder hornets are still in the United States.

According to KOMO News, another Asian giant hornet has been found in Western Washington at a location farther south than previous sightings, officials said. The specimen was collected in Bellingham, Wash. which is more than 15 miles from the next closest confirmed sighting last month near the town of Custer in Whatcom County.

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A local resident found the insect, also known as a "murder hornet,” on their porch. The specimen was wiggling and the resident stepped on it, which then killed the hornet. The hornet was then collected and submitted through the Hornet Watch Report Form at agr.wa.gov/hornets.

While murder hornets are not aggressive to humans, they do kill honeybees.

The Harvard Gazette spoke with Benjamin de Bivort, the Thomas D. Cabot Associate Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and James Crall, a postdoctoral fellow, to talk about their views on how much the public should worry about the sightings of murder hornets in Washington state and British Columbia, and while they are not excessively harmful to humans, they do hurt an essential animal in the ecosystem — the honeybee.

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“Bees are incredibly important for human well-being, including both managed honeybees and wild bees. Put simply: About one in three bites of food comes from crops that depend on animals for pollination, and bees are the most important group of pollinators,” Crall explained.

He continued, “The parts of our diet that depend on pollinators — including many fruits, nuts, and vegetables — are really nutritious. Losing pollinators means less healthy food and worse health outcomes for humans. Of course, beyond their role in food production, bees are incredibly important for preserving biodiversity, more generally.”

The invasion of murder hornets is not necessarily a new thing.

According to Science News, “In September 2019, beekeepers tracked down and destroyed a hornet nest about the diameter of a large grapefruit near a public footpath in Nanaimo near Vancouver, Canada. Lone flying hornets also showed up on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border, one at a hummingbird feeder near Blaine, Wash.”

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But that wasn’t even America’s first encounter with a murder hornet. In 2016, Allan Smith-Pardo, now at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service office in Sacramento, Calif., said that he was the scientist charged with identifying any suspicious wasps or bees found in cargo or mail nationwide.

An inspector flagged an express package coming into the San Francisco airport without any mention of insects in its labeling. The package ended up being a whole nest of Asian giant hornets. “There were no adults in the package, but plenty of pupae and larvae,” he says. Also, a few were still alive.

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