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This is a murder hornet. Here's what you probably saw
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Washington State Department of Agriculture entomologist Chris Looney displays a dead Asian giant hornet, a sample brought in from Japan for research, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Blaine, Washington. The new Asian hornets that have been found in Washington state may be deadly to honeybees, but bug experts say the Asian giant hornet is not a big threat to people. - photo by Associated Press

Don’t panic if you spot a giant flying brown and yellow hornet. Chances are it’s not the murderous insect that has recently invaded major news outlets.

Garrett Hibbs, Hall County extension agent, said one of the most popular calls he has received over the past three weeks involves people who think they’ve seen an Asian giant hornet, also known as the “murder hornet.”

He assures Georgians that Washington state is the only part of the country where the species has been found. According to The Associated Press, the hornet was sighted and verified in the U.S. for the first time last December near Blaine, Washington, close to the Canadian border.

“To this point, it has not been present in Georgia,” Hibbs said. “It hasn’t been reported outside of Washington state.”

When people call Hibbs or share images of what they believe might be Asian giant hornets, he said a majority of the time they’ve sighted the insect’s local look-alike, the European hornet instead.

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The University of Georgia's entomology department created a chart to help people better decipher between the Asian giant hornet and native species of wasps, hornets and bees. Photo Courtesy Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health at the University of Georgia

Both have brown and yellow coloring and grow considerably long compared to other hornets, wasps and bees. 

Hibbs said the Asiant giant hornet, which is the largest hornet in the world, ranges from 1.5-2 inches in length. The European hornet can reach up to 1.4 inches.

Since the largest European hornet can be similar in size to the smallest Asian giant hornet, Hibbs recommends gazing at the insect’s middle segment, the thorax, and head to help decipher between the two. 

Unlike the European hornet, the Asian giant hornet has a large and vibrant orange-yellow head, and the center of its three segments is solid brown. 

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Dead Asian giant hornets, samples brought in from Japan for research, are displayed, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Blaine, Washington. - photo by Associated Press

Instead of a solid-colored thorax, the local hornet displays brown and yellow patterns.

Hibbs said the Asian giant hornet, which mainly lives in eastern and southeast Asia, can act aggressively toward people, livestock and pets. Although the insect’s venom can be lethal to humans if stung multiple times, he said the biggest worry lies with its pollinating victims — honeybees.

“They only sting if provoked,” Hibbs said. “The more concerning point of it is what they can possibly do to a honeybee colony. Several of these hornets can take out a colony with thousands of bees.”

Hibbs said Asian giant hornets use their large mandibles to decapitate colonies of bees. If someone spots dismembered bees around a hive, he encourages them to contact the Hall County Extension Office. 

For those who think they’ve found a murder hornet, Hibbs recommends snapping a photo and sending it to the Hall County Extension Office via uge1139@uga.edu.

People can also speak to one of the facility’s staff about their sighting by calling 770-535-8293.

“If you think you saw it, we’re always happy at the extension office to take a look,” Hibbs said. 

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