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Telling ‘murder hornets’ apart from native species in Michiana

Published: Aug. 6, 2020 at 5:30 PM EDT
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ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. (WNDU) -New images of some pretty big hornets have some of our viewers asking if the Asian giant hornet, also known as the ‘murder hornet’, made it’s way to Michiana.

16 News Now tracked down a specialist on these bugs to tell us if 'murder hornets' are here.

You'll be happy to hear these large stinging insects are not 'murder hornets', but a type of wasp called cicada killers.

16 News Now spoke with an entomology professor from Purdue University to learn how to tell the difference between a ‘murder hornet’ and the two more common species in Michiana.

This is the cicada killer one of our viewers found in their backyard. While it could be mistaken for an Asian giant hornet, Entomology Professor at Purdue University, Clifford Sadof says it could take years before one shows up in the Hoosier State.

Measurement of a cicada killer wasp in St. Joseph County.
Measurement of a cicada killer wasp in St. Joseph County.(Jack Springgate)

"There was a report this week of them being found but they actually confirmed finding more Asian hornets in Washington State. The chances of one of these things having to hitchhike across the Rocky Mountains, and then across the Great Plains to get to us--it is a finite possibility, but there's a lot of things that have to happen for it to get too us. So I would be surprised if it gets here within the next 5-10 years," Sadof said.

Asian giant hornets have a few dead giveaways if you're looking at one.

The easiest one to notice is their unmatched size. 'Murder hornets' can be one-and-a-half to two inches long.

Sticking with the theme, they also have huge heads that can be as wide as their bodies. Their faces are also yellow in color.

Lastly, you can look at their body color. Asian giant hornets typically have an orange and yellow body.

They also live in nests you're familiar seeing with paper wasps.

There are two different species of hornet and wasp in Michiana that could be confused with 'murder hornets'.

You've already met the cicada killer. You can spot the difference between these and 'murder hornets' because of their slender bodies.

They're also mostly black in color with yellow markings.

In addition to a smaller body, they have smaller heads too.

These wasps also make nests underground, something 'murder hornets' don't do.

"One of the things about these things is that they're really big and they're really scary. But unless you are going to try and grab one or try to swat it with your hand, they're not gonna really bother you," Sadof said.

European hornets are common in Michiana and have been in the United States since the 1800s.

They're harder to differentiate than the Asian giant hornet because their body color and shape are pretty similar.

The big differences are their size, growing only a little bigger than one inch.

Like the cicada killer, they also have a smaller, more slender head.

Their heads are also reddish in color, getting bright yellow toward the face. This is different from the Murder Hornet's solid yellow head and face.

Sadof says if you spot an insect you think might be a Murder Hornet, you should call the Indiana Department of Resources invasive species hotline at 1-866-NO-EXOTIC.

Copyright 2020 WNDU. All rights reserved.

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