It is big. It’s bad. It will rip your head off, eat your family and destroy your home. If you are a honey bee, that is.
Ever since it was found in the Pacific Northwest in 2019, the world’s largest hornet, Vespa Mandarinia, has been of concern to environmentalists and beekeepers alike. Native to parts of Asia, the insect is usually about an inch and a half long with a broad, mustard-colored head and striped body. It has an appetite for bees and other insects and can decimate hives in hours. Its presence in North America has prompted a desperate attempt to eradicate the small population before it becomes permanent.
The Mandarinia’s towering size, painful sting, and violent tendencies have made it a popular subject in the media, where it has been dubbed the “Asian giant hornet” and “murder hornet.” However, on Monday, the Entomological Society of America (ESA) introduced a new common name for the insect: the northern giant hornet.
Chris Looney, an entomologist at the Washington State Department of Agriculture who has led efforts to curb the spread of the hornet, wrote the official proposal to change the insect’s name. He cited various reasons for this, including the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic. The association of a creepy insect already linked to murder and attempted extermination with Asia could stoke further anti-Asian sentiment.
“In my personal experience, I’ve heard statements like ‘another damn thing from China’ several times (regardless of the fact that the hornets discovered in North America are probably from Japan or Korea),” wrote Dr. Looney.
“The name Asian giant hornet wasn’t very meaningful because some related giant hornets are native to Asia,” said Jessica Ware, entomologist and president of the Entomological Society of America. “And then murder hornet wasn’t very descriptive either because they don’t murder people.”
Though its sting can cause swelling, excruciating pain, and sometimes fatal allergic reactions, the northern giant hornet isn’t aggressive toward humans — and it’s unlikely anyone could have “willful evil intentions” in similar deaths. Even when controlling other insects, Dr. There were doubts as to whether the behavior of the hornet could be described as murder. “I don’t know insects are capable of murder,” she said. “We don’t say lions are killers when they hunt.”
The adoption of this new name is part of the Entomological Society’s Better Common Names Project, launched in 2021 to facilitate communication between scientists and the public. The project’s task force was also responsible for renaming Lymantria dispar, the sponge moth. Previously, the insect’s common name included a term derogatory to Roma.
“I think it’s very important to avoid names associated with specific breeds or regions,” said Akito Kawahara, an entomologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History who supported the hornet’s name change. “Especially when they enter organisms — that’s really, really problematic.”
dr Kawahara grew up between the United States and Japan, where the northern giant hornet is native. In Japanese, the insect’s name means “sparrow hornet,” and despite the fact that some people fry the hornets for food and add them to sake, Dr. Kawahara that “it’s just treated like a normal insect”. In the United States, on the other hand, he continued, “all this media surrounds this organism because of what it does and because of the name. It’s insane.”
Although common species names are often associated with native regions or countries, they can quickly become obsolete with the discovery of expanded natural ranges and changing political boundaries. (Take the Burmese python, for example.) Still, names can be tacky, especially when given to particularly fascinating animals. “You’d be surprised by some of the names that are out there,” said Dr. Goods.
Referring to regional and nationalist nomenclature, Dr. Kawahara that these kinds of names “definitely, definitely” lead to a more emotionally nuanced perception of species. As a child in Japan, he noticed that invasive organisms associated with America were often slandered. “And all because of the name,” he said.