Buzz off, murderous hornet! Scientists rename an insect to reduce fear and stigma

Scientists removed the bite from the name of the world’s largest hornet in a bid to dispel fear and stigma about the insect.

In a press release on Monday, the Entomological Society of America (ESA) announced that it had renamed Tangerine Vespa – commonly known as the murder hornet or Asian giant hornet – as the northern giant hornet. The Entomological Society of Canada followed suit.

An invasive species, authorities in British Columbia and Washington state have been working to eradicate the hornet from their regions since specimens were first discovered on both sides of the border in 2019 .

The northern giant hornet is native to eastern Asia – mainly Japan, Korea and Taiwan – and feeds on honey bees and other small insects. They can grow up to five centimeters long and have a wingspan of four to seven centimeters.

Their sting injects a large amount of venom, which can be very painful and can also cause swelling, redness and itching. Hornets rarely attack humans unless their nest is disturbed.

The use of the word “Asian” can stir up racism

The ESA says Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) entomologist Chris Looney proposed the name change, citing the need for inclusive public communication about the insect.

The organization of entomologists says the change follows new guidelines adopted last year on acceptable common names for insects, which prohibit names referring to a racial or ethnic group, or names likely to stir up controversy. fear.

“Amid an increase in hate crimes and discrimination against people of Asian descent, the use of ‘Asian’ in the name of a pest may unintentionally bolster anti-Asian sentiment,” writes ESA press release.

Based on the new guidelines, the organization has also renamed Vespa velutin — a species commonly referred to as the Asian hornet or yellow-legged hornet — as the southern giant hornet, a change also endorsed by the Entomological Society of Canada.

Entomological societies on both sides of the border also adopted a new common name for Vespa velutina, which was known as the “Asian hornet” or “yellow-legged hornet”. (Guillaume Souvant/AFP via Getty Images)

“Key ecological role”

The WSDA said Monday it would follow the ESA’s recommendation and update its website and printed materials to reflect the new common name in the coming weeks.

Provincial beekeeper Paul van Westendorp says the BC government should follow suit and the name “murder hornet” paints the insect in an inaccurate light.

Deaths from hornet stings have occurred, but only in extreme cases.

“This [name] attracted many people’s attention, of course, [but] the sad thing is that it doesn’t reflect what this particular creature does at all,” van Westendorp said.

“It’s important to remember that they really are the ones controlling many other insect populations. Northern giant hornets play a key ecological role in our environment.”

Northern giant hornets were spotted on Vancouver Island in 2019 and in the southern Fraser Valley in 2020.

Van Westendorp says there was only one sighting near the BC-Washington border last year, and there have been no sightings at all this year so far.