Science Can Destroy Murder Hornets with Sex Pheromones

Many TV shows and movies will tell you that the human species can be easily felled by their sex drive. Sometimes, pheromones just make you do stupid things. But it turns out, humans are not unique in that regard. Even creatures as powerful as murder hornets fall prey to certain drives and end up making choices they may later regret. Since the arrival of the murder hornet in 2019, researchers have tried their hardest to eradicate this invasive species. After all who wants hornets flying around with murder in their name? Not to mention the damage the wasps deal to the ecosystems they invade. And now, with some out-of-the-box thinking, and some useful sex pheromone research, scientists think they’ve found a way to attract and entrap murder hornets.

What are Murder Hornets?
Murder hornet up close

Before we go any further, we have to remind everyone that murder hornets actually have a different name. These creatures are actually called Asian giant hornets, or Vespa mandarinia. But “murder hornets” has better brand value. Murder hornets actually don’t present that much danger to humans, though, of course, getting stung by one wouldn’t feel very good.

If you’re stung by a murder hornet, it’ll feel like getting “stabbed by a red-hot needle,” according to Shunichi Makino, who studies the wasps. “Usually, the stung part severely swells and continues aching for a few days. Although you could also have these symptoms when stung by the other hornet species, the intensity is said to be much more severe in Vespa mandarinia.” But the biggest danger these wasps pose is to our ecosystems, crops, and bees.

Bees, of course, are integral in keeping our environments working as they should. And murder hornets love to… decapitate bees and steal their hives. The poor bees even end up screaming. Not a very good look, murder hornets.

How Wasp Sex Pheromones Can Contain Murder Hornet Spread
Murder Hornet on its side for wasp sex pheromones to contain murder hornets article

But that’s why scientists feel it’s integral to contain the spread of these hornets and they’re using sex pheromones to lure them in. As first reported by Gizmodo, James Nieh, an entomologist at the University of California at San Diego shares, “We were able to isolate the major components of the female sex pheromone, an odor blend that is highly attractive to males who compete to mate with virgin queens. When these components or their blend was tested in sticky traps, they captured thousands of males.”

Sounds like a genius plan to us. The pheromone components identified were exanoic acid, octanoic acid, and decanoic acid. According to  Gizmodothese chemicals all have rancid and pungent odors that might send a human running in the other direction, but really work for the murder hornets.

Although highly effective, these traps were also highly specific. Nieh further shared, “Such traps are also usually highly specific, as we found in our study… We did not capture any other insects or even female giant hornets. This reduces their ecological impact.” Nonetheless, the sex pheromone traps are inexpensive and could be easily disseminated. Next steps include further testing and continued iteration of the wasp sex pheromone formula. For now, the scientists from UC San Diego and China shared their findings in a paper published in  Current Biology

While murder hornets have only invaded British Columbia and Washington State for now, scientists fear the spread of the wasps and its effects. Hopefully, sex pheromone traps and other scientific innovations can help stop their spread.

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