These Insects Are Not Killer Hornets, so Please Stop Killing Them.

Asian giant hornets are big and striped, yes. But it’s the same with some other insects. If you see anything similar to these killer hornets you’ve heard so much about , you might be tempted to kill it and / or convince yourself that the apocalypse is indeed here. But please don’t. This is almost certainly a case of misidentification.

Remember, invasive hornets are only registered in Washington state, and even there they are extremely rare. (Also remember that they are not going to kill you .)

“[The vast majority of] Americans will never see a giant Asian hornet in their lives,” says entomologist Matt Burtone . He accepts requests for insect identification at the North Carolina State University annex building and recently tweeted that his mailbox was full of suspected Asian giant hornet sightings. None of them were Asian giant hornets.

It is possible that someone may appear in North Carolina or another place where hornets have not yet been seen. If you think you are seeing the first one, send a photo to your local expansion office.

But you can also save your local entomologist the trouble by knowing your local large striped forest. Even if what you see is huge and unlike any hornet you’ve seen before, it may be because you are seeing something special: bee or wasp queens coming out of hibernation to start a colony this year. as they do every spring. (Queens are larger than typical of their species.)

Below are some of the insects that entomologists mistake for Asian giant hornets. And just to remind you: Asian giant hornets are not really called “killer hornets” and they have no particular interest in killing you. So don’t panic anyway.

European hornets

Technically, these hornets are aggressive, but they’ve lived in the US for over 100 years and won’t go anywhere. Here is a newsletter about them from the state of Pennsylvania.

European hornets are usually 1 “long, while queens are about 1.4” long. They live in roughly the eastern half of the United States.

The European hornet has irregular brown and yellow stripes; this comparison from the Tufts Pollinator Initiative shows a photo next to it. The head of the European hornet is mostly dark red in color. Asian giant hornets have orange heads and sharper orange and black stripes.

European hornets build nests in tree holes and sometimes in house walls, but they are also predators of other wasp species, so this is not necessarily a bad thing. University of Pennsylvania entomologist Michael Squarla says: “When homeowners find a nest, but it’s not too unpleasant (and no one in the immediate vicinity is allergic to bee and wasp stings), I suggest they leave them alone if at all possible. “

Cicadas killers

They are solitary wasps that go out in summer to feast on cicadas. Males can aggressively defend their territory, but they have no stingers. Females usually won’t bother you unless you are a cicada. Here is the University of Kentucky newsletter.

Cicada killers can be up to 2 inches long, and there are several species that are found in different parts of the United States ( map here). The belly of killers of eastern cicadas is long, pointed and mostly black.

Southern Yellow Jackets

You’ve seen the yellow jackets before, and they don’t look too much like Asian giant hornets. But both Burtone and Squarla told me that in their investigations of killer hornets, they accidentally came across a southern queen in a yellow jacket. Queens are larger than other members of their species and may appear orange and black rather than yellow and black. They mainly live in the southeast.

Bumblebee queens

The bumblebees are already big, and the queens are even larger. There are many types of bumblebees, but in general they look fuzzy and bee-like. The Xerces Society, a pollinator conservation group, noted that humans mistake bumblebee queens for Asian giant hornets. Since the main problem with Asian hornets is that they can pose a threat to bees, killing the queen bees does not help matters.

They are some of the most common large striped insects in the United States, but each area has its own counterparts. The iNaturalist app can help you identify species based on a photo if you’re not sure. If you live in or near Washington State, the State Department of Agriculture has compiled this native insect comparison chart that you might mistake for Asian giant hornets.

Rachel Bonoan of the Tufts Pollinator Initiative adds that in addition to the above, German yellow jackets, paper wasps, and bald hornets are all wasps from the Pacific Northwest that have a big side, but none are as large as the Asian giant hornet.

If you really think you have seen an Asian giant hornet, please report it to your local agriculture bureau. If you live in Washington DC, you can use this form to file a report.

This post was updated on 05/06/2020 at 5:07 pm to clarify the color of the European hornet’s head.


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