UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Recent alarming news reports aside, Asian giant hornets — sometimes referred to, hyperbolically, as "murder hornets" — are not an immediate concern in the Northeast, nor are they likely to be for a long time, if ever, according to an entomologist in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.
But Michael Skvarla, assistant research professor of arthropod identification, says the stinging insect, recently discovered in the Pacific Northwest, might cause issues for beekeepers if the hornet, scientifically known as Vespa mandarinia, becomes established and widespread in North America.
"The term 'murder hornets' originally was coined by a few Japanese media outlets several years ago, and a recent New York Times story using that description went viral, causing a bit of panic in the United States," Skvarla said. "In their native range, they commonly are called 'great sparrow bee' in Japan, 'tiger head bee' in China and 'general officer hornet' in Korea."
He explained that even the common name "Asian giant hornet" — its most frequently used moniker in English — could be confusing, because another large species, Vespa velutina, the yellow-legged hornet, is sometimes known as Asian hornet, and Vespa crabro, or European hornet, is sometimes called giant hornet.
Until the Entomological Society of America, which governs the use of common names for insects in the United States, decides on the official designation for V. mandarinia, Skvarla contends that calling it "sparrow wasp" or "sparrow hornet" may be the best way to distinguish this species from others, since those names are similar to a name used in the wasp's native range.
Whatever it's called, V. mandarinia is a source of anxiety, in part, because of its size. Skvarla noted that Asian giant hornet queens are among the largest wasps in the world and can grow to a length of more than 2 inches, with a wingspan of 3 inches.