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Giant Asian Hornets – Should Beekeepers Worry?

The Asian Giant Hornet is a distant relative of the honey bee and other pollinators. However, that does not mean that these hornets are not a danger to bees. They are insect predators. Do Asian Giant Hornets eat bees? Yes, they do eat bees and other insect pollinators as well. In fact, they are so good at it – that they have earned the nickname “Killer Hornet”. Beekeepers are right to be a bit concerned about this newest honey bee pest.

picture of vespa giant asian hornet

Do Asian Giant Hornets Eat Bees?

It seems that we beekeepers always have something to worry about.  Our honey bees are under attack from one direction or another constantly.  The over use of pesticides and herbicides contaminate bee food and water sources.

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Common beehive pests like the Varroa Mite, devastates thousands of bee colonies each year.  And now, we have a new predator in the United States – the Giant Asian Hornet

picture of asian giant hornet and honey bee

What is a Killer Hornet?

Native to east Asia and Japan, the Giant Asian Hornet (Vespa mandarinia) can reach a length up to 2 “long.  A large hornet similar in size to a thumb, it has a yellow and orange head. 

Living in colonies in the ground or the trunks of dead trees, the Giant Asian Hornet is a fierce predator.  It can fly up to 25 mph.   

A beekeeper’s suit is no protection from the long stinger and powerful venom of these predatory hornets. When provoked the hornets have a powerful, painful sting.

A human receiving multiple stings could die even if they are not allergic to wasp venom. In Japan, an average of 50 people are killed by these hornet attacks each year.

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Comparing Asian Hornets to European Hornets

European Hornets were first found in the US around 1840. Since that time they have spread across most of the country. They are mistakenly called “Japanese Hornets” or brown hornets but their true name is European Hornets.

These large yellow and brown insects were the only true hornets in the US until the discovery of some Asian Giant Hornets in Washington state in 2020.

European Hornet (Vespo crabo)

  • mistakenly called Japanese Hornet
  • previously only true hornet in US
  • mostly yellow abdomen with rows of black teardrops -yellow and brown coloration head
  • normally nest inside cavities
  • predator of other insects – even honey bees
  • sometimes forage at night
  • often attracted to outside lights at night
  • not generally aggressive away from nest
image of european hornet worker

Asian Giant Hornet (Vespa mandarinia)

  • also called Killer Hornet or Murder Hornet
  • native to eastern Asia
  • striking yellow head- banded yellow and brown on abdomen
  • typically nest in the ground or in tree cavities close to ground
  • predator of other insects
  • do not forage at night
image of close up of asian giant hornet worker

How Hornets Prey on Beehives

Both types of hornets prey on honey bees and other insect pollinators. In truth, a large nest of European Hornets nearby can cause a serious problems for any beekeeper.

Some beekeepers have experienced severe depopulation of their hives by European Hornet attack. These predators catch worker honey bees returning to the hive or while foraging.

When a single hornet enters a bee hive, the bees are not without recourse.  Hundreds of bees will “ball” the intruder and kill it. Score 1 point for the honey bees.

However, many hornets attacking a colony at the same time can devastate the hive.   Hornets attack and kill adult honey bees, larvae and pupae. These hornets can decimate honey bee colonies in a matter of hours.

The most likely time to experience problems will be in late Summer to Fall.  During this time the hornet colony is at peak population.

Why Asian Hornets are a Particular Threat to Honey Bees

In addition to their large size, the Asian Giant Hornet has other characteristics that make it a particular threat to honey bees.

For reasons not understood, in late Summer the Asian Giant Hornet tends to seek out honey bee hives in particular. In this time, other types of prey are less attractive to them.

In areas where giant hornets have been a problem, beekeepers have experienced piles of dead bees in front of the hives. 

This is a similar scenario to a pesticide kill.  When foraging bees come into contact with lethal pesticides it is common to see piles of dead bees in front of the hive.

However, after an Asian Hornet attack, piles of dead bees at the hive entrance are missing their heads. The predator tears off the head of the prey (honey bee). The rest of the body is carried back to their nest to feed young.

Should Beekeepers Worry About Murder Hornets?

Naturally, beekeepers are concerned about this new bee predator.  If you are a beekeeper concerned about your colonies, what should you do?

Be calm. Don’t panic. Listen for news of more sightings -especially in areas that are near you.

The Murder Hornet was first spotted in the US in late 2019 in Washington state. Only 2 were confirmed at that time.  

Since then, scientists, researchers and beekeepers across the country have been on the hunt for more sightings.  There have only been a handful of confirmed Giant Asian Hornets found.

If you suspect a nest of giant murder hornets on your property, call your local extension agents. This is not a job for amateurs. 

There have only been a very few sightings of the Giant Asian Hornet in the US.  Most of the reported sightings are by people who are getting them confused with a more common European hornet.

Final Thoughts on Giant Asian Hornets and Bees

The arrival of the Murder Hornet in the US is certainly not good news for anyone. Like other hornets, the stings are painful and care should be taken to stay away from the nest.

Beekeepers should be alert and watchful. No one knows if this hornet will become well established in the US. Continue to monitor conditions and sightings reported by other beekeepers near you.

Our bees surely do not need another problem to deal with, However, in truth, queen failures, lack of varroa mite control and other beehive management issues are a much bigger threat to most of our hives.  At least this year…

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