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‘Murder Hornets’ Unlikely To Affect Penn State, Says Expert Entomologist

With another set of unexpectedly bad news that scares the hell out of us every day, 2020 has been the gift that keeps on giving.

That sentiment was further exemplified a few weeks ago when articles about “murder hornets” arriving in the United States went viral online.

We’ve all seen the headlines and memes poking fun at them, but do these “murder hornets” have any potential to wreak havoc on Penn State? To get a definitive answer, we (virtually) sat down with Dr. Justin O. Schmidt, a Penn State grad, entomologist, and creator of the Schmidt sting pain index.

Better known as Asian giant hornets, “murder hornets” are extremely menacing creatures. They can grow up to 2 inches in length, boast a 3-inch wingspan, and are armed with a large amount of potent venom. Although they aren’t ranked on Schmidt’s sting pain index just yet, these hornets are regarded by their victims as having one of the most painful stings in the world.

Schmidt recalled working with colonies of the hornets back in 1980 but, like most of us, never consider getting stung.

“I hadn’t really formulated a pain scale at that time,” Schmidt said. “I just assumed that they would hurt a lot and that I didn’t want to get stung by one.”

In the 1980s, Schmidt published a paper organizing the properties of insect venoms and organizing them into hierarchical scales of different levels of pain. Since the, he’s worked to refine the scale over the years and has now categorized data from dozens of different species. If you’re like most of us, you may recognize the Schmidt sting pain index from a few throwaway lines in 2015’s Ant-Man.

Although many are panicking about the hornet’s presence in Washington state, Schmidt expresses heavy doubt the hornets would cause problems in Happy Valley. In order for the insects to stir up trouble in central Pennsylvania, they’d need to spread colonies throughout the continental United States — a scenario Schmidt and other entomologists consider extremely unlikely.

If Asian giant hornets did find their way to the Keystone State, Penn Staters shouldn’t panic. According to Schmidt, the sheer intimidation the hornets radiate should make it easy enough to leave them alone. If hornets have no reason to sting you, they won’t. It’s as easy as that!

Schmidt added the main folks who should be concerned by the hornets’ spread are beekeepers. The general population of European and African honeybees residing in the United States isn’t adapted to fight against them and likely couldn’t go toe-to-toe with them as an invasive species. However, some bees have been able to kick some hornet ass abdomen by overheating them en masse.

Although there’s not much to be concerned about at the moment, Schmidt advises Penn Staters to be vigilant and do their part to stop the murder hornet’s spread across the country. If you find a colony in your area, stay away and contact local wildlife authorities to have it properly dealt with.

If you’re interested in learning more about stinging insects or Schmidt’s journey toward creating the sting pain index, consider checking out his book The Sting of the Wild.

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About the Author

Richard Smeltzer

Richard is a junior majoring in applied statistics at Penn State. He is originally from York, Pennsylvania, and spent his first two years of college at Penn State York. Being from a family filled with Penn State alumni, he has been deeply ingrained in the culture. Growing up a Baltimore Orioles and Miami Dolphins fan, he has experienced many hardships throughout his life. You can find him screaming into the void about these teams, and much more, on Twitter @SecretRichardS.


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