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Would ‘murder hornets’ move to Utah? The jury is out

Very close macro of the yellow face of a Japanese giant hornet. Getty Images

Should we be worried about murder hornets making their way to Utah?

SALT LAKE CITY – If you were hoping to frighten people, using the nickname “murder hornets” would be an effective way to do it.  The insects have made their way to the shores of Washington, but, how worried should we be about them migrating to the Beehive State? 

Have you seen these things?  The Asian giant hornet, or “murder hornet” is roughly two inches long and has pincers on its head designed to rip honeybees apart.  They can sting multiple times and can penetrate the protective gear beekeepers wear.  Their sting can be fatal to some humans and some news outlets are reporting they can kill mice.

“They fit into everyone’s nightmares,” says University of Utah Entomologist Jack Longino.

So, should we worry about murder hornets moving across the western states and making a home in Utah?  Longino has doubts about that.  He says the insects seem to thrive in places like Japan and the Pacific Northwest.  However, he says they don’t go high and they don’t go dry.

Longino says, “They like low-elevation, moist places.  They don’t extend to very high elevations and mountains.”

He believes the hornets “hitched a ride” on shipping vessels from Asia and could possibly come to this state by getting into shipping containers.  If that were to happen, Longino says the hornets would survive a lot better in a city environment that a rural one.

Longino says, “They wouldn’t survive out in the foothills, but, it might survive in somebody’s garage.”

Steven Stanko with the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food agrees that the scientific community hasn’t officially decided if these insects would even want to live in Utah.  He says there are certain features of the state the hornets would like, and others they would hate.

Stanko says, “You have lots of forested areas with minimal human disturbance, which would lean us to the ‘at risk’ category.  However, most of the state is at relatively high elevation, which may put us at a lower risk.”

If a migration were to happen, Stanko says the hornets would have to establish colonies along the way.  So, how long would this process take, worst case scenario?

“It would be at least five years before they could make it to Utah,” Stanko says.

The state of Washington and the federal government are in charge of finding, containing and killing these hornets.  Agriculture officials in that state want to know about every single sighting so they can wipe them out.  Entomologists say anyone who sees them should call agriculture officials, and should never try to get rid of them by themselves.

 

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