Penciling in Life -- Monthly Column by Donald Dean Mace: Murder Hornets!

Murder Hornets!

This August day in Washington State, just south of the Canadian border, is pleasant enough, bringing with it a warmth and a humidity that is not too overwhelming.  From the west, there is a breeze coming off the Pacific Ocean.  The breeze is tantalizing and just a little cool, but we are too far inland to taste the sea salt.  Still, it moves through the wild flowers and the forest pleasantly, barely rustling the leaves of flowering plants.  It is a breeze that would nicely cool the skins of the Native Americans that hunted here for thousands of years before the European settlers arrived, were they still here to hunt them, and a breeze that would at times blow hard enough to test the wings of the now western honeybees that the Europeans brought with them, bees that would manufacture honey, beeswax and Royal jelly.

Flying amongst the sweetly flagrant flowers is a western honeybee, her hind legs thick and bulbous with a bright yellow cache of pollen.  She is making her way back to her hive, where she will dance for her sisters and fill the air with chemicals and odors to articulate where it was that she found her rich bounty.  The breeze, picking up, does little to deter her from her flight as she moves along quickly, her wings beating so rapidly that they are only a blur against the backdrop of trees.  Rushing along, the light turns dim as she enters the shade of the forest.  The forest floor, thick with dead leaves and a rich fragrant soil slips beneath her as she moves steadily through the woods on her way to the hive.

As she approaches her hive, nestled in the hollow of an old tree, it is alive with activity.  Bees are buzzing noisily, flittering one on top one another, a plush thong of bodies engaged in the business of honeybees, sustaining the colony and making honey.  Alighting gently, she smells something a little off, some odd scent, some strange new odor in the air.  It confuses her.  Still, she begins her dance, the dance done by honeybees for countless generations, the dance of direction, distance and location.  The dance of abundance, of life.

Moving in an apocalyptic swarm, steady and focused, a riot of large black and yellow hornets wing through the forest.  As they fly, streaking through long shafts of light jetting down from the canopy above, their heavily armored bodies sheen ominously.  With their roots in Japan, these feudal warriors are new immigrants to North America and have met little resistance to empire building.  Their queen arrived in mid-April, stowed away in the cool bowels of a cargo ship, and upon landing and waking from hibernation, found her way into the rich Canadian forest.  In the damp roots of an old pine tree, deep down in the burrow of a long dead rodent, she found a home, a place where hornets might thrive.  And with the industriousness of one possessed with an urgent quest, the business of making combs and laying eggs quickly began.  She will die in October as the weather cools, there is nothing to be done about that, but her offspring by then will have struck out on their own to build new colonies.  She will live on through her babies.  For now, her colony is 100 strong, and hungry.

The flight of hornets moves like a cloud through the forest, chasing down the scent marker left earlier by scouts.  Their wings beat quickly, thrashing at the air as they streak forward.

The breeze blows through the forest gently, caressing the fine hairs on the backs of honeybees as they dance and swarm the hive.  The air is a bouquet of rich aromas, a rhumba of legs, of wiggling antennae, of busy little wings as each new bee arrives to do her dance.

The hornets slam into the hive.  Not much tactic is needed, these bees have no defense against the hornets, a full-frontal assault suffices to send them into a complete disarray.  Heavily armored and five times the size of a honeybee, the honeybee stings are like twigs struck against hardened steel as they fight back.  The giant toughened heads of the hornets, fixed with large and sharp mandibles, lop off head after head as they twist and tear through the hive.  Nothing is safe.  Nothing is sacred.  The goliath jaws of the hornets are on a mission of utter destruction. 

In Asia, bees have developed a strategy to defeat hornets.  They form a thick ball around them and deprive their lungs of oxygen, then they beat their wings at breakneck speed and vibrate in a frenzy that raises the heat around the hornet to such a degree that it will cook them, leaving them dead to the world and nothing more than simple fodder for a lucky scavenger.  Hornets in Asia need a strategy.  Here, hornets need only boldness.  These North American bees haven’t discovered this tactic yet.  They are easy prey for Asian hornets.

In a few hours the beehive has been devastated, 40 thousand dead.  It is nothing short of complete genocide.  The corpses of bees lay piled up and spread out like the carcasses of murdered bison rotting under a hot sun, slaughtered so many years ago by European settlers that nearly eradicated them to starve out Native Americans.  Slowly, hornets move purposefully through the destruction, eagerly sucking out the blood of their enemies, thirsty like vampires filling up their guts with the juice of life.  Those hornets finally satiated begin to dismantle the bodies, digging out the nutrient-rich flight muscles to chew them into a paste, gnawing down larva to turn them into a thick pulp, gathering up the sweet and dripping honey, all to be taken back to the queen and the future generation of hornets growing in the abandoned burrow of a long dead rodent.

The discovery of the Asian hornet in the United States splashed across headlines in 2020, but those headlines abruptly switched to covering the COVID-19 pandemic.  Still, the Asian hornet, nicknamed the murder hornet by the Japanese, is of real concern.  The nickname murder hornet wasn’t attached to the Asian hornet because of its nasty sting, which is described as something akin to having a hot nail driven into one’s flesh, but because of the devastation it causes to beehives.  And while the sting of the Asian hornet can kill a human being, especially if one is allergic or stung by multiple hornets, its real danger lies in its ability to quickly and efficiently destroy honeybees.

Honeybees, both the western honeybee and the other native species of bees living in North America, pollinate approximately 40 percent of the crops consumed by humans, as well as other flowering vegetation that grows wild.  Honeybees and their kin, already distressed from a variety of environmental factors, could be overwhelmed and pushed to the brink of extinction should the highly predatory Asian hornet be allowed to establish itself.  As a result, efforts are underway to eradicate them before they can become entrenched.  To date, only a few confirmed sightings have been made, including the capture of two Asian hornets in Washington state, and scientists, entomologists, and volunteers are closely watching the situation.  The strategy is to capture the hornets, tag them, and follow them back to their colony to destroy it.  Thus far, no colony has been found.       

Donald Dean Mace

Donald Dean Mace is an artist, poet, guitarist and freelance writer living and working quietly in Yuma, Arizona.  He has travelled the world extensively (Europe, Africa and Asia) and in the 1980’s and 1990’s lived and worked in Germany for a total of 10 years.  He has retired twice, once from the US Army and once from US federal service, both careers were in law enforcement.  He is currently working on a novel.  He has been published by Ariel Chart, the Yuma Daily Sun, the Arizona Western College Literary Magazine, his poetry was featured in a public service broadcast, he is Pushcart nominee for poetry, and he was recently a guest on Mark Antony Rossi’s podcast, Strength to be Human.


  1. Did not realize this was for real. Thought a media creation like Hillary. I will pay attention. Good watching out.

  2. Beautiful and disturbing article about our beloved honeybees and the killer hornet intruder. I saw a picture of the hornet in Science News and it is big and ugly. What eats a hornet? Hope our indigenous wildlife will eradicate it before it takes over.

  3. When considering literature the hornet does not spring to memory; yet this article is written in the best tradition of alerting the community of a threat before harm arrives at the doorstep of the innocent. well done.

Previous Post Next Post