By Ralph Dickerson
On Monday afternoon Hannah Wheatley, a worker at Riverview Restaurant in Hawesville, made a shocking discovery in the stockroom of the establishment. There, in the middle of the stockroom, she saw murder. Murder? Here? How?
“I was kind of just startled,” Hannah said. “I had never…” and words then failed her.
Hannah stood there staring, trying to figure out what to do. After a minute or so she formulated a plan. Hannah slowly slipped off her shoe and gently crept toward the outside door. Hannah inched toward the door, raised her shoe and struck murder with all of her might! It then tumbled down to the floor, lifeless. Hannah stared at it for a moment, and then took out her phone and took a picture of the lifeless hornet lying on the floor.
Hannah’s coworker Kay, standing in the stockroom with her at the time, turned to her and asked, “Is this one of those new hornets?”
The ‘new hornet’ Kay referred to is the Asian giant hornet, the largest hornet in the world. This beast measures about two inches long, and its venom is powerful enough that it can kill a human. In fact, the Asian giant hornet kills between 40 and 50 people per year. Did this beast, recently discovered on the West Coast of the United States, somehow make its way to Hancock County?
No. The hornet that invaded Riverview Restaurant was not the Asian giant hornet, but the look-a-like European Hornet, a slightly smaller cousin.
“I had never seen a hornet that big,” Hannah said.
While the Asian giant hornet, also referred to as the ‘murder hornet’ is a newcomer to the Americas, arriving in the past couple of years, the European Hornet came to the United States in the early 1800s, brought here by early settlers.
Is it possible for the ‘murder hornet’ to eventually find its way to Hancock County? According to many naturalists, they expect the insect to one day migrate to the east coast of the United States. While found primarily in temperate and tropical regions of the Asia and the Russian Far East, the hornet does like to locate in low mountainous areas and forests. While Hancock County does not contain any mountains, it does contain many hills and forests. In addition, the Hoosier National Forest sits directly across the Ohio River from Hancock County. When the Asian giant hornet finally does make its way to the east coast, a chance exists that it will find Hancock County a good place to call home.
Though it can kill humans if provoked, naturalists say the ‘murder hornet’ generally is not aggressive towards people or pets. It hunts mainly other insects such as other hornets and mantises, and loves honeybees.
In fact, the greatest threat the Asian giant hornet presents is to the honeybee populations in this country. The hornet feeds on beehives to provide food for their larvae. One ‘murder hornet’ can kill up to 40 honeybees per minute. It uses its huge mandibles to decapitate a bee in one bite. Bees in North America lack a defense against this intruder. Though the bees fight back, their stings prove ineffective against the hornet.
The only bee with a defense against the Asian giant hornet is the Japanese Honeybee. When the hornet finds a hive of bees, it enters the hive and releases a pheromone to attract reinforcements to come to the hive. The Japanese honeybee allows the hornet to enter the hive, and then hundreds of bees attack and surround the hornet. In a unique defense, the bees activate their flight muscle, which dramatically raises both the temperature and carbon dioxide levels in the ball. The combination proves fatal to the hornet, but not to the bees.