Izu Rhythm

Izu Rhythm

Life on Japan's Izu Peninsula

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murder hornets!

PHOTOGRAPH BY ATSUO FUJIMARU, MINDEN PICTURES

So let’s talk about murder hornets, the name given to a species of Japanese hornets that were discovered in the US in 2019. First of all, I sympathize with writers out there who employ the best methods of catching people’s attention. With Americans checking their phones somewhere around 100 times a day, one really needs words that reach out and grab you. ‘Murder hornets’ is a good choice in that respect. I commend the person who first coined the term for his or her skill at sensationalism.

Let’s take a look behind the curtain at the actual insect. They buzz around my yard daily in the warmer weather, and I spend a lot of time watching them. America’s ‘murder hornet’ is a species called osuzumebachi here in Japan. This compound word consists of three parts: big-sparrow-bee (o-suzume-bachi). Even in Japanese the word is misleading because it portrays the insect as something the size of a sparrow, which flies around my yard too. I assure you that sparrows are much larger than this hornet.

Dramatic names aside, osuzumebachi certainly deserves respect. It is in fact the largest hornet in the world. The ones I see are typically 1-1/2″ long, but they sure seem a lot bigger. When I see one, I immediately try to figure out if they are alone or in a group because they are more aggressive in groups. Mob mentality, right? If you keep your distance from them and try to display non-threatening behavior, they pretty much go about doing their own thing. But let’s be honest, they are not friendly and attack humans pretty regularly in Japan – mostly because of getting too close to their nests. They are highly venomous for a hornet and sting multiple times. When they attack in a group, it has lethal consequences. An average of twenty people per year die from attacks in Japan.

www.insects.jp

I don’t think this is why the ‘murder hornet’ creator chose this name. I assume it was because of the habit of attacking and killing other insects. The osuzumebachi is famous in Japan for attacking the beloved species of native honey bees – nihonmitsubachi (Apis cerana japonica). Beekeepers often work the hives with no protective gear because Japanese honeybees rarely attack like their more aggressive Western counterparts. The Japanese also believe that the taste of honey produced by these bees is superior to all others. Calmly working as a collective to produce a high quality product is a highly valued behavior. The Japanese honeybee’s biggest threat is the osuzumebachi. It regularly attacks honeybee hives and eats the bees and the larvae. These murderous attacks on the cute little Japanese honeybee would easily inspire a moniker like ‘murder hornet.’ That’s where I think the term originated.
Until I find out who first coined the term ‘murder hornet” and ask them how they chose it, I’ll stick to my theory.

If the fear-inspiring term has caused too much stress in your life, that’s understandable. Learn a little more about insect behavior. There’s plenty of information available on the internet. Just try to be aware of your surroundings. When your outdoors, walk slowly, look around for flying insects, figure out what they are and if they pose a threat. We’ve all got a purpose in life, so let other creatures go about theirs and you’ll generally live in harmony with your environment.

 

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