Asian giant hornets, commonly referred to as “murder hornets,” officially have a new common name: the Northern giant hornet.
The scientific name, Vespa mandarinia, remains unchanged, but the new common name will be adopted this month.
Introduced by the Entomological Society of America (ESA) on Monday, the name is designed to be clear and concise while also following the 2021 ESA guidelines for acceptable insect names.
“Common names are an important tool for entomologists to communicate with the public about insects and insect science,” ESA president Jessica Ware said in a press release. “Northern giant hornet is both scientifically accurate and easy to understand, and it avoids evoking fear or discrimination.”
In 2021, ESA updated its guidelines to bar common names that refer to ethnic or racial groups, as well as “names that might stoke fear,” according to its guidelines. Its policies also “discourage geographic references, particularly for invasive species.”
The name was proposed earlier this year by Dr. Chris Looney, an entomologist at the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA).
“ESA is grateful to Dr. Looney for proposing this common name,” Ware said, “and we commend the entomologists and colleagues on both sides of the border for their energy and ingenuity in working to prevent the Northern giant hornet from gaining a foothold in North America.”
This is the first designation of an official name for the insect, according to Sven Spichiger, a WSDA entomologist. Both Spichiger and Looney have been active in targeting, studying and eradicating the hornets from Whatcom County, the only location in the United States where live nests have been found.
“The Asian giant hornet — that’s the term we have been using, but that’s not actually an official common name,” Spichiger said during a press conference about the hornets in May. “You’ve heard this referred to many different ways. You’ve heard it referred to as a murder hornet, as an Asian giant hornet and [Looney] submitted a suggestion that has been reviewed.”
In addition to confirming the name Northern giant hornet, ESA accepted several other common names related to the bug in July. The group amended the common name for Vespa soror and Vespa velutina. V. soror will become the Southern giant hornet, and V. velutina will become the yellow-legged hornet. ESA said the Southern giant hornet is closely related to the Northern giant hornet, and the geographic identifiers refer to their native ranges in Asia.
Northern giant hornet nests were first detected in Whatcom County in 2020, with three more nests discovered in 2021. So far this year, no nests have been reported, though there was an unconfirmed sighting near Blaine in May.
The hornets can wipe out an entire hive of bees in just a few hours, decapitating grown bees and wasps before feasting on their larva. The bugs, which are native to Japan and the largest hornet in the world at about 2 inches in length, are catastrophic for local bee populations.
“It only takes a handful of [Northern] giant hornets to go to a hive and completely wipe out all of the adult [bees] in a matter of hours,” said Karla Salp, WSDA’s acting communications director. “We’re talking about thousands and thousands of bees that can be killed in just a matter of hours.”
Washington residents can report Northern giant hornet sightings to the WSDA using a Hornet Watch Report Form, via email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or via phone at 800-443-6684.