Is the ‘murder hornet’ headed to Alaska? Experts say it’s unlikely

Asian giant hornet attack and destroy honeybee hives. The hornets enter a “slaughter phase” where they kill bees by decapitating them. (Photos courtesy of Washington State Department of Agriculture)

Authorities are working to track and kill an invasive species of Asian wasp given the nickname “murder hornet,” that has been detected in British Columbia and Washington state.

The insect has a sting that can be lethal to humans and is also a threat to bee populations.

Pictures of the Asian giant hornet are nothing short of terrifying. The face of the 2-inch insect looks malevolent. And it is: it’s capable of devouring colonies of honey bees in a few hours. That said, unprovoked attacks on humans and livestock are rare.

Asian giant hornets attack and destroy honeybee hives. The hornets enter a “slaughter phase” where they kill bees by decapitating them.

But its sheer size and ability to sting through most beekeepers’ suits makes it a formidable pest and agricultural officials in the U.S. and Canada are working to make sure it doesn’t get established in North America.

Alaska isn’t known to be hospitable to outside species. The list of known invasive insects is around 100 species long.

But University of Alaska Fairbanks entomologist Derek Sikes says he doesn’t see the Asian giant hornet adapting to Alaska’s cold climate even though in some parts of the panhandle, the climate is fairly mild.

“So the question then becomes what about Southeast Alaska which is the warmest,” Sikes told CoastAlaska on Monday. “And there, that’s where it has the highest chance of succeeding but even there it’s very small.”

UAF Entomologist Derek Sikes says that global warming could help the murder hornet move north, but for now, Alaska is is probably safe. (Photo courtesy of Derek Sikes)

Warming temperatures — brought on by global climate change — will only increase the chance of the insect’s ability to thrive in Alaska, he added.

Dubbed in recent days by some media outlets as so-called “murder hornets” — its northern range of habitat is in Russia’s Far East and Japan.

“And that’s the same latitude as Washington and Oregon,” Sikes added.

Yet further north, two nests were discovered last fall on Vancouver Island in British Columbia.

And those nests were eradicated,” said Gail Wallin, executive director of the Invasive Species Council of British Columbia. The nests were found last fall near the island city of Nanaimo — about 400 miles south of Ketchikan.

She told CoastAlaska on Monday that the origins of the nests remain a mystery. They could’ve arrived on cargo from Asia. Or they could’ve been imported by someone seeking an exotic pet.

Agricultural authorities in Washington state have confirmed sightings of the pest near Blaine near the Canadian border.

Wallin says B.C. officials are working with neighboring states, provinces and territories to track and eliminate these and other invasive pests.

The species don’t recognize any of the borders so the more we can work together the better off we are,” she said.

The Centers for Disease Control cites 1,109 deaths by wasp and bee stings between 2000-2017. The last two recorded fatal wasp attacks in Alaska were both near Fairbanks in 2006.