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Can the ‘murder hornet’ reach southern Arizona?

Updated: May. 4, 2020 at 7:02 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - As the United States deals with uncertain times, a new type of insect has arrived, and its sting is strong enough to kill a human.

Nicknamed the “murder hornet” the insect may remind you of something from a Sci-Fi movie.

“Murderous hornets, that gets your attention,” said Justin Schmidt, an entomologist and adjunct scientist with the University of Arizona.

Schmidt said the hornet’s real name does not sound nearly as scary.

“It’s scientific name is Vespa mandarinia, which would translate into English into the Mandarian Hornet,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt said he traveled to Japan in 1980 to study the insect.

“It is the biggest stinging insect on earth, so that naturally makes it interesting,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt documented his research in a manuscript titled, Hornet Venoms: Lethalities and Legal Capacities.

“They are so big that if you get stung by as few as six to a couple dozen individuals you can actually go into kidney failure and they can actually kill you,” Schmidt said.

This roughly two-inch long insect is especially troubling for honey bees. They can wipe out a hive in just hours, decapitating bees in the process.

Schmidt said their specialized diet includes wasps and bees. So, an infestation could be detrimental for beekeepers.

While the hornets originate in Asia, they have been spotted in British Columbia and Washington State over the last few months.

William Fitz owns Fitz and Gentry Farms. He specializes in local honey production, pollination, and humane bee removal and relocation.

He said he learned about “murder hornets” years ago, while watching a documentary on bees, but is not concerned about his bees in Southern Arizona.

“As someone who makes their living with bees, there are plenty of things to be worried about. There are other parasites and pesticides that are damaging to bees,” Fitz said.

Gene Hall is the Collections Manager at the University of Arizona Insect Collection.

He said beekeepers in Southern Arizona should not be too worried.

“This particular wasp from Asia, it prefers moist habitats so that is probably going to restrict any of its range greatly even if it does get established here,” Hall said.

Schmidt said he has been in touch with experts in British Columbia and Washington State. He said with their specialized diet, the hornets do not stand much of a chance against beekeepers.

“The only thing that is readily available to them is beekeeper’s honey bees. Beekeepers take umbrage when you kill off their colonies; they don’t like that. They are going to go out and do a great deal of searching and find these hornets and exterminate them. So, I don’t expect they’ll be around very long,” Schmidt said.

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