The news of so-called murder hornets potentially invading Canada with a sense of doom is connected to the tradition of being fearful as a response to a lack of knowledge, says Professor of Biological Sciences Miriam Richards.
Yet when a little knowledge of the species is gained and after carefully weighing the risks, Richards believes people will see the issue is “overblown.”
“The actual name of the insect is the Asian Giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia), which is a far cry from the media’s interpretation of murder hornets,” she says.
Richards says the hornets got their name because of the region they derive from, and that many species are named for their geography, such as the European hornet (Vespa crabro).
In order to assess the risk any species poses to a region, it’s important to know how prevalent they are. In Canada’s case, says Richards, it’s extremely low.
“The few known cases of Asian Giant hornets have been contained and there is little to no risk of this invasive species taking hold in Canada,” she says, adding that the few known cases of Asian Giant hornets were in the Pacific northwest.
Another key factor is how dangerous a species is to humans. While Asian Giant hornets have caused fatalities, the average number of stings needed to cause death hovers around 59. The available number of fatalities also include stings caused by wasps, bees, and other hornet species.
“We saw a similar fear-based response in the past with Africanized honeybees being labeled ‘killer bees,’” says Richards. “In truth, they pose almost no danger, and if you compare deaths from honeybees to Asian Giant hornets, the hornets are much lower.”
Faculty of Mathematics and Science Dean Ejaz Ahmed welcomes this tempered scientific response and applauds Richards’ ability to dig deeper.
“One important goal of education is to remove fear through knowledge and provide our students with a measured response to when the news of a threat looms,” he says.
Richards suspects the hornets likely arrived in Canada on shipping containers, which are an easy method of transportation for invading species. This could be alleviated, she says, with stricter regulation and inspection of containers.
Most importantly, Richards hopes that people understand that the benefits of what hornets do for our ecosystem are far greater than stirring up unnecessary fear.
“Hornets and wasps play a crucial role in controlling herbivorous insets like lady bugs and aphids,” she says. “Hornets are also an efficient predator adept at hunting black flies and other pests.”