Researchers in the US have issued a warning about the presence of so-called “murder hornets,” which can be lethal to humans and pose a high risk to the bee population, the New York Times reported Saturday.
The Asian giant hornets are around 5 centimeters (two inches) long and have an orange and yellow head.
According to the report, the insect “has a distinctive look, with a cartoonishly fierce face featuring teardrop eyes like Spider-Man, orange and black stripes that extend down its body like a tiger, and broad, wispy wings like a small dragonfly.”
They use sharp fins to decapitate bees and take their bodies to feed to their young, and human victims of the sting described it as similar to “hot metal driving into their skin,” the report said.
In Japan, the insects have been known to kill up to 50 people a year although they tend to attack only when disturbed.
Scientists are now concerned that the hornets have invaded the US and could destroy the native bee population. Washington state had four verified reports of the flying menace in December.
Researchers believe the collapse of bee colonies, also thought to be caused by pesticides or climate change, among other factors, could threaten food production, with not enough bees available to pollinate plants.
“It’s a shockingly large hornet,” said Todd Murray, Washington State University Extension entomologist and invasive species specialist. “It’s a health hazard, and more importantly, a significant predator of honeybees.”
Murray added that it was important for people to learn to recognize the insect so it can be eradicated before it becomes too widespread.
“As a new species entering our state, this is the first drop in the bucket,” he said, as invasive species can make “forever changes” to the local ecology.
“Just like that, it’s forever different,” Murray said. “We need to teach people how to recognize and identify this hornet while populations are small, so that we can eradicate it while we still have a chance.”