What happened to… Murder hornets?

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On this episode of the Global News podcast What happened to…? Erica Vella looks at the invasive species, murder hornets, that made their way to North America in 2019.

Moufida Holubeshen and her husband John Holubeshen have long been passionate about beekeeping; the couple has three hives of their own at their home in Nanaimo, B.C.

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In 2019, Moufida recalled an email that sparked her attention; several sightings of large hornets had led officials to believe there was a suspected Asian giant hornet nest in Nanaimo.

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“I was reading it and I wondered what on earth is the Asian giant hornet? never heard of this thing,” she said.

The Asian giant hornet — otherwise known as the “murder hornet” — is part of the Vespa genus that includes about 20 to 25 different species. While they are known as the Asian giant hornet, the scientific name is Vespa Mandarinia. It is an apex predator at the top of the food chain in the insect world and it is normally found in China, Japan, Thailand, South Korea, Vietnam and other countries in Asia.

The Asian giant hornet’s average size is about five centimeters in body length with a wingspan of about seven centimeters

When Moufida had begun researching the insect, she discovered the invasive species was native to Asia and as the largest hornet in the world, it could potentially inflict significant damage on local bee populations if the nest was not eradicated.

“I was already at DEFCON-whatever and [John and I] agreed that we needed the coordinates because we can’t even begin to plan a search or scope this out without coordinates. Like, is it north of town, south of town, middle of downtown? Where is this?” Moufida said.
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She had gotten in touch with Paul van Westendorp, British Columbia’s provincial apiculturist to learn more details about the suspected hive and Moufida and John began their search.

In the late afternoon of Sept. 19, 2019, Moufida and John narrowed down their search to a nearby park and five minutes into their hunt, John said he saw something peculiar

“I saw something fly overhead. I stopped, I waited, and then I saw a couple more. I was pretty sure these were the Asian giant hornets,” John said.

The couple had found the nest — the first Asian giant hornet nest ever found in North America — and John was about to feel the wrath of its sting.

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“It progressed into feeling like I was hit by a two-by-four; suddenly looked down as [I] see one six inches from my face on my chest,” he said.

“I’m standing there trying to process what just happened, and I slowly realized that Moufida is yelling at me to to move [and] get out of there, because once they sting, they leave pheromones that attract others to the same area to sting. Shortly after that, I moved out of the way and then got a kind of a head flush face, plus I could feel a sensation through my eyes. So I didn’t know if I was getting a reaction or whether it was just an adrenaline rush. … We got out of there.”

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Moufida and John had located the nest and gathered a crew of experts to help destroy the nest in September 2019.

On this episode of Global News’ What happened to…? Erica Vella finds out more about the Asian giant hornet and how they managed to arrive in Canada in 2019. She also learns how the insect earned the nickname “murder hornets” and finds out if the insects pose a significant risk to North American honeybees.



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