Experts are now saying that the average American does not have much to fear from "murder hornets," but there is another insect they should consider a real threat. The Asian giant hornets out in Washington state do not pose a direct threat to humans in most cases, an entomologist told CBS News. However, mosquitoes most definitely do.
The University of Illinois' May Berenbaum told reporters that "people are afraid of the wrong thing." Reports of "murder hornets" have gone viral in the last few weeks, with Americans bemoaning that this invasive species was just what they needed on top of the coronavirus crisis. Berenbaum said, "The scariest insects out there are mosquitoes. People don't think twice about them. If anyone's a murder insect, it would be a mosquito."
Around the world, mosquitoes are responsible for millions of deaths per year, according to the World Health Organization. They carry diseases like malaria and dengue fever, and are difficult to stave off. The threat is lower in the U.S., where the CDC reported that 15 people died last year from Eastern Equine Encephalitis — a rare mosquito-borne disease.
Still, experts say that mosquitoes have emigrated to North America in the past. Historian Timothy Winegard told CBS News that mosquitoes were likely "unwitting hitchhikers" to the continent aboard the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria when Christopher Columbus sailed her in the 1400s.
"They very quickly started vectoring malaria and other diseases," he said. Winegard added that mosquitoes were a serious problem in the U.S. from the 1600s to the early 1900s, spreading malaria and yellow fever.
The Asian giant hornets found their way to North America by a similar means late last year. They were first detected in Washington state and western Canada in November of 2019, when they began ravaging the honeybee population there. The hornets slaughter and eat smaller bees by the hive, which poses a great ecological threat to North America, but experts say that their direct threat to humans ins relatively low.
The Asian giant hornets have gotten a lot of attention for their massive stingers, which are loaded with enough neurotoxins to kill an adult human with just a few stings. They can also pierce right through the protective gear warn by beekeepers. However, experts say that these "murder hornets" rarely attack humans unless provoked, so most people are safe.
"They are not 'murder hornets.' They are just hornets," Washington Agriculture Department entomologist Chris Looney told CBS News. "The number of people who are stung and have to seek medical attention is incredibly small."