The world was turned on its head when “Jaws” was released in 1975.
The phenomenally successful movie made people wonder: Was it safe to go back in the water?
Concerns over safety, however, led to the millions of shark deaths.
While 1975 could arguably be called “the year of the shark,” this year might be called the year of “the insect.”
Headlines have honed in on giant Asian hornets, also known as “murder hornets,” and that has created confusion — putting innocent insects in harm’s way.
The invasive giant Asian hornet was trapped in the state of Washington in 2019, and it also was captured across the border, in Canada.
This invader is native to Asia and most likely accidentally introduced to the United States, through a shipping container on a cargo ship.
The state of Washington quickly mobilized local beekeepers and state agricultural biologists to track, trap and destroy the hornets effectively leaving Washington state, and the rest of the U.S., murder-hornet free.
Just recently — at the end of August — there were more sightings in the state of Washington, so experimental traps are being set to see if they can find out more about them.
When the insect was first discovered in Washington, a news story was published raising alarms nationwide —leading to hundreds of reported sightings.
Those sightings were not murder hornets.
But, the fear prevails.
Jun-ichi Takahasi, a specialist on the species from Japan, says that the hornet earned the “murder hornet” moniker from its aggressive behavior, its ability to deliver extremely painful stings and for the possibility that just a few stings can be fatal for humans, according to a report published this May.
Understandably, the public is concerned.
Beekeepers are concerned, too, since the hornet is adept at killing adult honeybees and feeding the larvae to its young.
Florida, popular for its beaches and warm winters and hot summers, has a conducive environment for invasive plants and species.
It has vines that choke the life out of native plant populations and pythons that choke the life out of native wildlife.
Florida also has plenty of wild areas where invasive pests can hide.
However, there have been no verified sightings of murder hornets in Florida, or nearly anywhere else in the U.S.
Still, the fear about murder hornets could endanger Florida’s native and beneficial insects that just so happen to resemble the now-famous hornet species.
These beneficial insects could be in jeopardy, just as sharks fell victim to human overreaction and sensationalism.
Here’s a look at some of the insects that could be at risk.
The most common wasp species mistaken for the giant Asian hornet is the cicada killer, also known as ground hornets.
Large and intimidating, cicada killers are not harmful. In fact, they help control the population of damaging plant-eating cicadas. There are a few species in Florida and throughout the Caribbean. Generally, they are not aggressive, but they are capable of stinging, if provoked.
Although not considered dangerous, any of the wasp species can be harmful to those with allergies, small children and the elderly.
It’s best to not encourage them to live close by using mulch to cover bare soil and, if necessary, using labeled insecticides can rid an area of the wasps.
Cicada killer colors, depending on the species, appear red to black with large, yellow spots. While the cicada killer is large, compared to other wasp species at 1.5-inches long, they pale in comparison to the giant Asian hornet which can grow to more than 2.5-inches long.
The giant Asian hornet has a yellow head, a black thorax, and yellow and black or brown stripes along its abdomen, making its size and color quite distinctive compared to any other insect in Florida.
Another wasp — the common paper wasp — also is commonly mistaken for a ‘murder hornet.” The paper wasp typically keeps to itself, but it can sting, if provoked.
Paper wasps are beneficial. They help to pollinate plants and they make a great biological pest control, controlling damaging caterpillars.
They can sting to protect their nests, but they typically are not a problem.
If they do become a problem, careful application of a labeled aerosol spray in the evening, after the wasps have returned to their nest, can address the issue.
Yellow jackets, another common Florida wasp, also are mistaken for “murder hornets.”
Yellow jackets are more aggressive in defending their homes than other wasp species, but they, too, are beneficial. They prey upon insect pests. Yellow jackets are distinctive in their coloration, which consists of a black body with bright, yellow stripes.
Another ground-dwelling wasp — the bald-faced hornet — also sometimes is mistaken for the giant Asian hornet. But, the bald-faced hornet wasp has very distinctive black and white coloration, and dwells in aerial nests.
The bald-faced hornet also is not a threat.
All of these wasps are hornets. Hornet is just a term for wasps that typically have above-ground nests. Yellow jacket is a term generally reserved for those wasps with underground nests.
People are concerned about the potential spread of the giant Asian hornets.
But, they can rest assured that the United States Department of Agriculture and Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services are vigilant.
They are constantly monitoring for invasive pathogens, insects and viruses that have potential to do harm to the native bees and wildlife, including the vitally important European honey bees, which surprisingly, are not a native species.
As sharks have been killed needlessly over the past four decades, innocent insects are being killed more frequently because of mistaken identity.
Those actions lead to potential ecological damage, as populations of native and non-native beneficial species are affected.
Many of these insects help pollinate crops, home gardens and ornamental plants.
They also can serve as important food sources for other animals.
Florida is rich in plant and animal diversity — so mistaken identities are understandable, but caution and patience should govern our reactions.
To learn more on this topic, visit:
Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services – FDACS.gov
Florida Wildlife Commission – MyFWC.com
University of Florida/IFAS Pasco Cooperative Extension Office – SFYL.ifas.ufl.edu/pasco/.
Wasps play a beneficial role and should not be killed unnecessarily, but occasional control may be needed. If so, here are some things to keep in mind:
- For yellow jackets (wasps nesting below ground), call in a licensed, pest control operator. These wasps are aggressive, and it’s difficult to get to the nests.
- For hornets, or wasp species with small nests, use aerosol sprays labeled for their use on wasps. These types of spray can be sprayed from several feet away from the nest, to help avoid stings.
- For large, aerial nests in trees, consult a licensed professional for removal options.
If you believe you have spotted something unknown to our state, potentially dangerous, or simply unusual, there are resources to help with identification, and if necessary, offer control strategies.
The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Cooperative Extension Service can help with identification and can help you learn more about the insects.
The Florida Wildlife Commission and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services also are good sources of information.
Source: Whitney C. Elmore, is the UF/IFAS Pasco County Extension director and an Urban Horticulture Agent III.
Dr. Whitney C. Elmore is the UF/IFAS Pasco County Extension director and an Urban Horticulture Agent III.
Published September 23, 2020