What are those enormous hornet-looking insects people keep finding in Eastern Ontario this spring?

Photo via Christine Moses/Facebook

As many long-awaited summer festivities kicked off over Victoria Day Long Weekend, one uninvited six-legged guest caused quite a ‘buzz’ among Lanark, Leeds and Grenville residents.

When Facebook user Christine Moses posted a series of photos in the group “Friends of Mississippi Mills” of a large wasp that she found in her window sill on Monday, May 21, she was very alarmed at its size. She turned to Facebook to reach out to the community to see if anyone could identify the not-so-welcome house guest. 

Similar posts appeared on other area groups, as well as users’ personal Facebook pages, showing the alarming size of these insects.

Moses claimed that the wasp was at least an inch long and quipped, “Can anyone identify it as an invasive/killer/sci-fi/mutant/normal wasp? Sorry for the poor pics — it’s hard being a citizen scientist while shuddering and squealing.” 

Some confusion ensued in the comment section about whether these insects could be ‘Asian hornets’, also known ‘norther giant hornets,’ or ‘murder hornets.’

According to Ontario.ca, the northern giant hornet is, “the largest species of hornet in the world and are native to temperate and tropical regions in China, Korea, Japan and northern India. They are predatory as they hunt insects for food, including honey bees.” Evidently, these hornets could potentially pose a serious threat to Ontario’s native agriculture and biodiversity as “they can also destroy honey bee colonies in less than 24 hours.”

To clear up some of the confusion, Lanarkist spoke with Melanie Kempers of the Ontario Beekeepers Association who clarified that the Asian hornets “have not been found in Ontario, nor any neighbouring provinces. Only in British Columbia so far, and there is an eradication program in place.”

Kempers provided Lanarkist with a Pest Alert from the British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, which reads “Nanaimo in August 2019. A single nest was located and destroyed. Since then, six specimens have been found in the Fraser Valley from White Rock to Aldergrove in 2020. No other specimens have been found on Vancouver Island since 2019.”

An image of an Asian hornet, via Ontario.ca

In terms of their status in Ontario, northern giant hornets are not currently present in any nearby regions, and it remains unknown if they can survive Ontario winters. Some similar-looking species in Ontario that are often mistaken for the Asian hornet are the yellowjacket wasp, European hornet or the Eastern cicada killer wasp.

Lanarkist spoke with Dr. Gard Otis from the University of Guelph, who specializes in butterfly ecology and behaviour, as well as honeybee behaviour and forest entomology. In response to the mounting concern online about hornets, Dr. Otis stated, “There is not much to say about hornets in Ontario in 2024.  The hornet situation is really simple. The only giant (“murder”) hornets that ever showed up in North America were in a very small region of NW Washington State and SW British Columbia.”

Dr. Otis elaborated, “ That was in 2019.  There were more observed in 2020 and 2021, but NONE since. There were never any found in Ontario. Moreover, we do not seem to have a climate suitable for this species in Ontario if it were to get introduced to North America again. It seems that the northern giant hornet has failed to successfully establish a population in North America.

He added that “both [British Columbia] and [Washington State] have ended their monitoring programs, and now rely on residents to report anything they may see. People are likely seeing European hornet queens which are relatively harmless. Possibly also much smaller yellow jacket queens.”

The Ontario.ca website states that these hornets “cannot be verified without a specimen or a photograph”, therefore if someone is concerned, they should seek identification from a trusted source such as an entomologist or taxonomist. Those who wish to report a sighting can fill out the following form https://survey123.arcgis.com/share/413513687cb1411f8914b8add586f40e

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