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Today is October 4, 2022

Asian hornet look a-likes confuse Mississippians

By Susan Collins-Smith

Mississippi is home to several flying insects that can be mistaken for the invasive Asian giant hornet discovered in Washington in 2020.

Blake Layton, Mississippi State University Extension Service entomologist said this insect, also called a “murder hornet,” has not been confirmed outside the Northwest. However, Layton said he has been contacted by people who think they have seen these hornets in Mississippi and Alabama in the last few weeks.

“Asian giant hornets are still confined to a small area of Washington state, and they are working to eliminate them there,” Layton said. “We do not have Asian giant hornets in Mississippi, and it is very unlikely that they will occur here anytime soon.”

The Asian horntail wasps is one of five insect species found in Mississippi that can be confused with the Asian giant hornet. Southern yellowjacket queens, cicada killer wasps, European hornets and periodic cicadas also look like this pest.

The nonnative Asian horntail wasp, or wood wasp, arrived in the U.S. in the 1970s and is becoming more noticeable. Males vary in coloration and are rarely seen. The female has a long, black abdomen encircled with yellow rings and a single band of fine hairs. It has a bright-yellow thorax immediately behind its head and wide, yellow and black bands on its legs. The female horntail wasp can have fine hairs on other parts of its body. While this wasp has a horn spike on the top rear of its abdomen, what appears to be two formidable stingers on the end of its abdomen and a large ovipositor for boring into wood to lay eggs, it does not sting.

Southern yellowjacket queens also look a lot like Asian giant hornets with their large, orange-and-black bodies. The queens are much larger than the workers and are sometimes spotted in the spring as they search for places to build nests.

Homeowners usually get stung when doing yard work, such as mowing or trimming, that causes vibration of the nest.

Cicada killers are actually wasps more closely related to mud daubers. But one could be mistaken for an Asian hornet because of its sheer size and similar coloration.

Cicada killers occur statewide but usually go undetected because of their social habits. They nest alone and rarely sting because they are not aggressive and do not defend their nests.

Like Asian giant hornets, European hornets are true hornets and are nonnative. Workers are about 1 inch long and queens are even larger. They are found mostly in north Mississippi.

They can be aggressive toward humans who get too close to their nests.

While periodic cicadas do not have the same body shape as Asian giant hornets, people can confuse them with the invasive pest. Both are large with orange-and-black bodies and large, clear wings, and they both make a buzzing sound in flight.

“We have annual cicadas that occur every year, but this is not an emergence year for any of the three broods of periodic cicadas that we have in Mississippi,” Layton said.

Although these established species of hornets, wasps and bees can be nuisances to humans, they play important roles in the ecosystem. They feed on caterpillar larvae and other insect pests, providing some natural control. Bees pollinate plants as they collect nectar.

Asian giant hornets are not pests that Mississippi beekeepers or anyone in the Southeast should be overly concerned about right now, said Jeff Harris, MSU Extension bee specialists.


Susan Collins-Smith is a writer for the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

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