Harmless look-alike bugs heighten ‘murder hornet’ worries

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CASCADE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The year 2020 has been filled with unexpected revelations, like the “murder hornet” arriving in the Pacific Northwest.

The large hornets carry 20 times the amount of venom as a honeybee.

The bad news is the so-called murder hornet has a twin, the cicada killer wasp, and that’s got a lot of people worried. The good news is the look-alike is harmless.

“Those are totally harmless insects. They kill cicadas obviously,” Dr. Matt Douglas, an entomologist at Grand Rapids Community College, told sister station WOOD-TV. “And the problem is people can’t identify a bumblebee from an Italian bee from a wasp from a hornet.”

The actual murder hornet conjures an image right out of a horror film — a giant bug with huge eyes and a quarter-inch stinger.

But Douglas says, so far, they don’t appear to travel well.   

“It came in, established a few populations in the Pacific Coast, there in the Northwest Pacific Coast. It hasn’t moved, and they are working very diligently on destroying it,” Douglas said.

The confusion over the murder hornet and the look-alike are understandable at first glance: Cicada killer wasps are also large bugs.

But a closer look reveals the differences, starting with the size of the murder hornet’s head.

“The head is enormous compared to the shoulders, the wings come out of the shoulder area, the eyes are huge and the whole face is kind of yellowish,” Douglas said.

Cicada killers are about half that size and are black and brownish in color.

A Cicada killer wasp. (Courtesy)

Texas A&M’s AgriLife Magazine recently published a story on lookalike concerns in Texas, and an illustrated explanation on the differences.

While they look like their more sinister distant cousins, you may want to keep the cicada killer wasps around.   

Cicadas can cause damage to trees when they plant their eggs in small branches.  

“They make a slit and they put an egg in there and that weakens the whole thing, and it just falls off,” Douglas said. “So, if you want fewer cicadas, which will damage your trees, you might want to have a population of cicada killers.”

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