Saturday, May 9, 2020

The Problem With "Murder"....Anything

It is a source of personal frustration that this blog must constantly address sensationalized mainstream press accounts of various insects and arachnids billed as the next great menace. That is putting things politely, actually. Humans excel at one terrible thing: creating enemies where none exist, or none would exist, were it not for people themselves.

Asian Giant Hornet, Vespa mandarinia
© Allan Smith-Pardo, USDA APHIS PPQ

It is also deeply troubling that a story about “murder hornets” is achieving more prominence than a story about the murder of a black male by a Caucasian father and son. Both hornets, and people of various demographics, are victims of unrelenting violence that they do not deserve. This is not a political issue; it is a humanity issue of staggering proportions and devastating consequences.

The fact that I can speak more intelligently about social wasps than people of color is disgraceful. I have a better education in entomology than in human cultural and ethnic diversity. Where did I fail? How did I allow myself to become an unwitting accomplice to institutionalized racism? How can I continue to advocate for “bugs” while my fellow human beings are fearing for their lives?

I know where to get factual information about insects. It comes from scholars I trust, from scientific literature that is thankfully now more accessible to the public than ever (are you reading this, journalists?), and from my own educational experiences, in class and in the field. I make an effort to learn, to understand, to act in accordance with what I know to be true. Science is by no means static; it also adapts to new discoveries. That is how we are going to get treatments and, hopefully, a vaccine for COVID-19.

The Asian Giant Hornet, Vespa mandarinia, is a large social wasp native to Asia, but adaptable to similar climates elsewhere if given the chance. That is what happened in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada, when a nest was discovered and destroyed in September of 2019. A single deceased specimen was found in Blaine, Washington, USA, near the Canadian border, in December, 2019. Genetic analysis showed it was from a different origin than the colony from Nanaimo. End of story, to date.

Asian Giant Hornet, Vespa mandarinia
© Washington State Department of Agriculture

Yes, Asian Giant Hornets can decimate hives of honey bees to procure food for their larvae in the form of bee larvae and pupae. The adult wasps will also eat honey to fuel their flight muscles. The marauding wasps can be kept from entering hives with the installation of queen excluder devices.

The root of the hornet problem, and indeed all invasive species issues lies with human enterprise, but that is not sexy enough for media corporations competing for clicks and re-tweets. Responsible journalism would highlight lax inspections of shipping containers at international ports. Honest and brave writers would dare to suggest that our global economy threatens to undermine some industries (apiculture in this case) and destroy native ecosystems through accidental and intentional importation of exotic species.

Likewise, our problems with race relations and other social and economic conditions exist in places we don’t want to look: inside our white privileged selves, our monochromatic neighborhoods, our segregated private schools….We must come to terms with that for the collective peace and advancement of our society.

Hornets are armed with heavy-duty jaws and, if female, a sting. They operate on instincts that, while surprisingly plastic, can be brutal in their execution. Human beings can be armed with any number of worse weapons, some capable of annihilating entire cities and more, but graced with minds that can overcome instinct. We can adapt much more easily than insects, or any other animal species, to crises and challenges simply by changing our minds.

We must admit to, and own, our biases, faults, mistaken notions in the face of facts, and work to change them. That is the only honorable and just course for our lives, alone and together. Seize the opportunity to reject conspiracy, irresponsibility, and lack of empathy. Be a hornet of a different stripe, a warrior of compassion.


  1. Beekeeper here:
    I absolutely agree with everything you wrote except for one technical point. Drone honeybees are the same size as queens, so if you put a queen excluder on the entrance, you will end up with a hive full of dead drones. It would be a temporary measure at best until the hornets could be tracked and eradicated.

    1. Ah, good point. Thank you for sharing your expertise!


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