There’s been a lot of buzz hubbub surrounding the recent arrival of so-called “murder hornets” in the US, with factoids and pictures of the relatively large flying monsters terrorizing the internet. But just how frightened should you be of these vicious-looking insect immigrants? It turns out, according to experts and data, not all that frightened. Unless you’re a honeybee.

The Murder Hornets, which are technically referred to as Asian giant hornets, or Vespa mandarinia, are the world’s largest hornets. They are native to temperate parts of East Asia, South Asia, and the Russian Far East, although the reason you’ve only recently heard of them, most likely, is because of the fact that they have now been spotted in the US for the first time ever.

Close-up of a hornet's face.

Gary Alpert

While the news is only breaking now, the Asian giant hornets were actually spotted in the US in December of last year, in Washington State. At that time, the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) received and verified four reports of the Asian giant hornets near the cities of Blaine and Bellingham. It’s not clear to officials how exactly the Asian hornets managed to make it to the US, but according to Seth Truscott at WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences, “Insects are frequently transported in international cargo and are sometimes transported deliberately.”

In terms of how deadly these Asian giant hornets are, the answer is: very. The jumbo arial assaulters are armed with quarter-inch-long stingers that are able to inject large amounts of potent venom into their victims, which are most often other insects, but also—very, very rarely—humans. In the latter, the hornets’ venom can reportedly cause skin hemorrhaging and necrosis, organ failure, and death.

In terms of sheer pain factor, according to wildlife educator and YouTuber Coyote Peterson, a person who’s stung by an Asian giant hornet should expect to feel something on par with famed-boxer Mike Tyson “taking an open shot right at your jaw.” In the below video, you can watch Peterson writhe in agony as he willingly injects himself with some of the hornets’ venom and subsequently enters “the sting zone.”

Despite its deadly venom and sizable stinger, you still shouldn’t fear Asian giant hornets, especially if you live in the US. Not only is the WSDA actively trying to eradicate the known populations of the hornets, but the odds of being stung by one are teensy tiny. As in, there have been zero reported stings by Asian hornets in the US. so far, let alone deaths. And even in Japan, where there is far greater number of the insects, there are only a few dozen deaths a year.

For honeybees, however, it’s a different story. A single Asian giant hornet can kill as many as 40 bees per minute, and a group of 30 hornets can annihilate a hive containing 30,000 bees in less than four hours. It’s not all bad news for the bees though, as they can use a tactic referred to as “heatballing” to literally overheat and kill the monster ‘nets. Check out a quick clip of that fantastic eusocial defense mechanism immediately below.

No Sightings in 2022

Just before the end of 2022, the WSDA announced that they found no murder hornets in the US in 2022. We saw this good news on The Verge. While it takes three years before they declare the pests eradicated, this is certainly a good first step. Since they were first spotted in 2019, the agency has diligently been tracking down and destroying their nests in Washington state. Citizen scientists also got in on the project, reporting any sightings.

Featured Image: Gary Alpert

Originally published May 4, 2020. Additional reporting by Melissa T. Miller.