What are 'murder hornets' and why won't people stop talking about them?

The giant hornet invasion has become the latest concern in 2020.
/ Source: TODAY

First the coronavirus and now "murder hornets"? 2020 is looking dark!

An invasion of giant two-inch hornets, known as "murder hornets," has become the latest concern and Internet trending phenomenon over the weekend. Here's what you need to know about the predators and the efforts being made to hold off an invasion.

What are murder hornets?

The giant insects get their ferocious name because they have the potential to annihilate honeybee populations.

"They're like something out of a monster cartoon with this huge yellow-orange face," said Susan Cobey, a bee breeder at the Washington State University's department of entomology.

The giant hornet, or vespa mandarinia, was first spotted in the United States in December, according to the Washington State Department of Agriculture. The insects are native to Japan. The term "murder hornet" began trending on Twitter this weekend after a New York Times report Saturday on efforts to stop the species from attacking honey bees.

What do murder hornets look like?

The two-inch long hornets have black bodies and mandibles shaped like shark fins that help them kill. Their long stingers are strong enough to puncture a beekeeper's suit.

Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia) is the world's largest species of hornet.Washington State Department of Agriculture

Can murder hornets kill people?

The giant hornets can decapitate honeybees and destroy entire hives in the span of just a few hours, according to the Washington State Department of Agriculture.

Murder hornets have longer stingers with toxic venom that could potentially pose a danger to people if the insects feel threatened. The giant hornets can also sting repeatedly, entomologist Chris Looney said in a video posted to the department’s YouTube page last month.

And while humans are not the pray that murder hornets typically target, if provoked, they can kill people, too. The hornets on average kill about 50 people per year in Japan. In 2013, 42 Chinese people died and more than 1,600 were injured from the hornets’ stings.

"It was like having red-hot thumbtacks being driven into my flesh,” Conrad Bérubé, a beekeeper and entomologist who exterminated a hive, told the New York Times.

Stopping the invasion

Looney said the key to stopping the invasion is finding and destroying murder hornet nests before they can reproduce.

He also urged people to report nest sightings to local authorities and to avoid trying to kill the hornets themselves.

"Don't try to take them out yourself if you see them," he said. "If you get into them, run away, then call us! It is really important for us to know of every sighting, if we're going to have any hope of eradication."

What the Internet is saying

People can't stop talking about murder hornets on Twitter, adding them to the list of things to dislike about 2020.

"Could whoever is in charge of the simulation stop letting your little brother press all the buttons," asked actress Kat Dennings.

Comedian Patton Oswalt also summed it up perfectly.

"Murder hornets. Sure thing, 2020. Give us everything. Hypno-frogs. Fecal blizzards. Toilet tsunamis. A CATS sequel," he wrote. "We can take it.