“The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are.” ― Marcus Aurelius
You’ve probably heard from the media or friends and family about the invasion of the “murder hornets.” You’ve probably heard that the honeybee populations are in danger and that these hornets are capable of killing a human being. You’ve probably heard that they’re huge, aggressive insects that build massive nests and chase people for up to 600 feet, flying at speeds of up to 20 mph.
What you’ve heard is mostly true. But what hasn’t been reported as much is the necessity to remain calm in spite of these insects.
Asian giant hornets—as they are better known—are among the largest wasps on the planet. Their stings are painful, their buzzing is disturbing and their mandibles rip the heads off honeybees like you and I pop the heads off dandelions. So we shouldn’t go outside anymore, right? Wrong. Things such as these must be put into perspective and realized for what they are, before we panic and declare that all is lost and the outside world is no longer safe.
Every year in the world, approximately 1.1 million people die from automobile-related accidents (over 30,000 in the United States alone). Food poisoning and food borne illnesses account for over 2,500 deaths. Accidents related to slipping, tripping and falling account for more than 15,000 deaths each year.
Do we quit driving our cars? Eating our food? Walking?
No, we don’t. The fact that seems to be lost in translation is that life is riddled with unpleasant accidents and unfortunate turns of fate. At any given moment, the fragile state of living that we enjoy could come to an end, and for some reason we modern humans give in to fear at the slightest sign of danger, simply because an article we read online told us to.
It’s the word “murder”, isn’t it? I hate to break it to you, but there are no insects out there who are plotting to kill us. There’s no such thing as premeditated insect homicide trials in the legal system. Mosquitoes kill 600,000 to 800,000 people every year, mostly from malaria-related illness. But you won’t see a mosquito on the witness stand for crimes against humanity. And why? Because it’d be absurd!
It’s the same absurdity you’ll find when media outlets use the term “murder” to describe an insect that prefers to spend time in mountains and forests. You know, away from people. It’s not like us humans are “murdering” them when we decide to cut down the forests and habitats that they populate.
And never mind the convenient timing of these reports, especially at a time when people are wanting to get out from shut down and enjoy their lives again.
So what do we do? Live the rest of our lives in constant fear?
I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone. Instead, I would recommend taking a deep breath, collect your thoughts and try to always be aware of your surroundings. Live in the moment, and know where you are in that moment.
If you are someone who likes to spend time camping, biking or trekking in the woods, you may want to be slightly more cautious than you already are. Aside from angry bears, thirsty mosquitoes and other humans, you trail-goers have enough to worry about when you’re out and about. Having known several of you, it probably won’t matter that there’s a giant wasp on the loose. But keep the headphones off and listen to the woods instead, just for the sake of safety.
There are other steps to take when dealing with stinging insects, and many of you are already aware of them. First, do not panic. If you hear a collection of buzzing sounds that feel like lap one of the Indianapolis 500, stop what you’re doing and try to silently locate where they’re coming from. Do not run or make loud noises—like screaming—unless you are out of options. Wear white and avoid perfumes and colognes when going out, or any sweet-smells and sugary drinks.
Once you’ve identified where they are, slowly walk in an opposing direction, one that preferably leads to a car or enclosed building. If you’ve located the nest, keep an eye on it as you move away. Do not disturb it. Asian giant hornets can build their nests both above and below ground, and require a lot of space to do so. The bigger the nest, the louder the noise, the easier to spot, unless underground.
Depending on where you are, if you think you’ve stumbled upon an Asian giant hornet nest and have reached safety from it, immediately notify the parks department, the resident whose property you’re on, or a local pest control company. Always let someone know and make sure that something is done about it. If you found the nest, chances are someone else will too.
For those who are still scared out of their wits, there are methods of deterring stinging insects that don’t involve dangerous or questionable chemicals. Some of you may have heard that there are essential oils that work as insect deterrents. This is true.
Personally, I usually carry a small bottle of citronella oil in my pocket during the spring and summer months to repel mosquitoes. For stinging insects, peppermint and wormwood oils are effective, but a combination of clove, geranium and lemongrass oils has been found to be quite effective as well. If you’re going to apply essential oils, I’d highly recommend using a carrier oil (almond for example) instead of directly applying them to your skin. Sure, you’re going to smell, but that’s the point.
I won’t bore you with more facts about the Asian giant hornet, because it’s not necessary. Stinging insects are a deadly part of our everyday life, whether we like it or not. As pest management professionals, it’s our job to educate and calm people about them, not to exterminate and instill fear to increase profits.
Wasps and hornets are incredibly beneficial insects to our world. In many ways, they’re a pest professional’s best friend. They help keep insect populations from getting out of control, acting as a balancing force in their area. Some research suggests that deploying wasps to agricultural crops is the future of agricultural pest control, notably for maize and sugarcane. Imagine having our food supply produced with the help of wasps instead of chemicals. But that’s another story for another day.
I won’t tell you how to live your life, but I can promise you that no matter how you live it, you will face risks and dangers every day. Accepting them as part of life is the first step, but learning how to reduce them by way of knowledge and a calm reaction is the most important step. We must all accept the fact that there are things in life we can’t control.
Believe me, I know how scary stinging insects can be. Two years ago I stood in a cloud of cicada killer wasps outside of a client’s home in Marshall. His pool area and landscape beds were overrun to the point where I lost count after about 40 wasps. It was quite unsettling to walk among them, the sound of their wings buzzing around me. But knowing that they are solitary wasps and quite peaceful, I wasn’t all that worried. The large nests of bald-faced hornets I’ve had to deal with? Not so much.
I’ve known many clients who were allergic to stinging insects, and several who were stung. They are among the several million people in the United States who are allergic to stinging insects. That number is growing.
To top it off, several years ago I lost my great-grandfather to yellow jackets when he was out picking strawberries for my great-grandmother. She was sitting in the hospital recovering from a bad fall when she heard the news.
So as someone who’s had experience with stinging insects, I can assure you that it’s not insensitive to point out the fact that there are things in this world that can kill you. Between nature and other humans, it’s a coin flip for who’s more menacing.
But living your life in a cloud of fear every day is no way to go through life. Arm yourself with knowledge, a calm mind and see things for what they are. Accept them, and start enjoying your life.