A roughly two-inch long insect known as the "murder hornet" has made its way to the U.S. for the first time ever, researchers said. The Asian giant hornet, Vespa mandarinia, has been known to kill up to 50 people a year in Japan, according to The New York Times, and has the potential to devastate U.S. bee populations, which have already been declining.
Susan Cobey, bee breeder with Washington State University's Department of Entomology, told WSU Insider that the hornets are "like something out of a monster cartoon with this huge yellow-orange face."
The hornets are usually between 1.5 to 2 inches long, have large yellow-orange heads with prominent eyes, and a black and yellow striped abdomen.
The hornets made their way to the U.S. for the first time in December, when the Washington State Department of Agriculture verified four reports of sightings. The hornets were also spotted in two locations in British Columbia in the fall, according to WSDA.
Scientists say the Asian giant hornet's life cycle begins in April. Researchers told WSU that is when the queen wakes up from hibernation and scouts out spots to build underground nests and grow colonies.
Todd Murray, WSU Extension entomologist and invasive species specialist, told WSU Insider the "shockingly large hornet" is a "health hazard, and more importantly, a significant predator of honey bees."
But murder hornets become most dangerous from late summer to early fall, when they ravage through honey bee populations. WSU researchers said the hornets attack the bee hives, decapitating and killing the adults and eating the larvae and pupae. Just a few of the hornets can completely destroy a hive in a matter of hours.
WSDA says on their website that the hornets do not typically go after humans, but if they do, not even beekeeping suits can protect against the hornets' stingers, which are longer and more dangerous than a bee's.
Researchers say the sting of a murder hornet is painful and packed with neurotoxins. Even if someone is not allergic to the hornet, multiple stings have the potential to kill.
Conrad Bérubé, a beekeeper and entomologist in Nanaimo, British Columbia, told The New York Times that the day after he got stung, he legs ached like he had the flu, and the sting was the most painful sting he's ever experienced.
Washington State officials are tracking the hornets and setting up traps to hopefully ease any possible harm.