Notice the size difference, Yellowjacket (bottom), European hornet (top). Photo courtesy of Jim Baker, North Carolina State University, Bugwood.org
This could partially be attributed to the information that was being tossed around on social media. And no wonder folks were worried; everything about this insect is scary!
For starters, these things are big. They are the biggest hornet in the world, measuring around 1.5 inches. Just for comparisons, a honeybee will measure around .5 inches long. With an insect that large, one could only imagine the sting and issues with the venom.
A 2013 CNN article details the death toll of 42 people from giant Asian hornet stings in China. Not only is there the concern of anaphylactic reaction (can lead to airway closure or cardiac arrest) but the venom destroys red blood cells, which can result in kidney failure and death.
Beekeepers are equally concerned. Once the hornet scout identifies a honeybee hive, they will return with their nest mates and wipe out the bees within a day. And it is a massacre as decapitated honeybees litter the ground from the hornet assault. But rest assured, the giant Asian hornet has not made it to our shores yet. Its native homeland is Asia (hence the name), but we should not rest easy. Our recent history is replete with Asian organisms that first showed up in Pennsylvania before any of the other 49 states. The most recent example is the spotted lanternfly. Go back a bit further, 1998, and we got to experience the brown marmorated stink bug before anyone else. The stink bug is now all over the US.
So what do people see around their properties? Most likely it is the European hornet.
These hornets are also large, about 1 inch in length. They have been around since 1840, and their range is up and down the east coast out to the Midwest. European hornets are not aggressive unless they feel their nest is under attack (so respect their space, and they will respect yours). They are unique to other Hornets in that they do the majority of their flying at night and can often be seen when bumping into lights and windowpanes. The only other item of note is that the European hornet can cause damage to trees and shrubs as they remove bark for their nest.