Murder hornet saves the day

Published 10:27 am Friday, May 8, 2020

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Larry McDermott

Life on the farm

Just when we thought there might not be enough streaming movies left to help keep our minds off the perils of a pandemic’s community spread, in swoops the “murder hornet.”

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News reports emerged this week that a nest of the Giant Asian Hornet had been found and destroyed on Vancouver Island in British Columbia and the insect had been spotted in Washington state. The hornet’s scientific name is Vespa mandarinia, but apparently, we need to attach a country-of-origin label on things we fear in order to properly villainize them. Which sort of begs the question, admittedly a sarcastic one, “If kudzu spread north into North Carolina, shouldn’t we call it South Carolina Killer Kudzu?”

This hornet is big. For hyper context, it is best to imagine that this Vespa is a Boeing 747 armed with Stinger Sidewinder missiles and piloted by a mad Asian guy screaming “Tora Tora Tora!”

Meanwhile, the peaceful non-aggressive honeybee is a single engine hang glider flown serendipitously by Willie Wonka. Hornet eats bee.

We come to think this way because most news reports focused on the illegal immigrant’s size and sting. The venerable Smithsonian magazine said the sting is far more painful and toxic than that of a honeybee. “Researchers have likened the sensation to having a hot nail driven into one’s flesh,” the magazine said.

That description almost—but not quite—made me forget that at the peak of our illness in America from the Covid-19 coronavirus with only essential workers being allowed to venture out into this spitstorm, the governor of Florida, the state where the question “did you change your oil?” refers to suntan oil rather than engine oil, pronounced professional wrestlers “essential” workers. Hulk Hogan must have shouted “Yeh brother” with North Carolina’s favorite son Ric Flair chiming in with his trademark “WOOOOO!”

Floyd Shockley, the entomology collections manager for the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History said ”You shouldn’t worry about it.”

But it’s a Giant Asian Murder Hornet and if it stings you—that’s it. You’re dead from a torturous hot nail driven into your brain. Am I right?

No. This 747 of a hornet doesn’t attack humans unless provoked. It prefers the peace-loving honeybee, the Willy Wonka of the insect world. It can wipe out a beehive filled with thousands of bees in an hour or two.

America’s predominant honeybee is the European bee, which is too impotent to fight off the hornet. You know how those Europeans are. Besides, they are more focused on building up their bank of honey.

The Japanese honeybee, on the other hand, is wise to the ways of the hornet, allowing a giant scout to enter its hive before swarming the invader and with a deafening roar of wings quickly builds heat and carbon monoxide to the point that the hornet is toast.

So excited are we about this stinging distraction from the virus that we are watching viral videos of the hornet. Deborah Harmon Clements of Rutherfordton sent me one showing a praying mantis pouncing on a Murder Hornet and devouring its head like me discovering a bag of chips hidden in the pantry.

As a beekeeper, all the hype, beginning with the hornet’s National Enquirer-like moniker, made me turn to a true local authority, Western North Carolina state bee inspector Lewis Cauble, who always chooses his words carefully.

“The Asian hornet was spotted on the west coast last year, so I am not so concerned,” he said. “We will see.”

And with that, we don our masks and head to one of our local restaurants to pick up some delicious comfort food and escape this week’s plagues and invading hordes.

Larry McDermott, a retired journalist, owns a 40-acre organic farm in Rutherfordton, where he grows blueberries, keeps bees and raises horses, dairy goats, and chickens. Email: or see farm happenings at