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OMG, Florida, are those murder hornets buzzing in our backyards?

State officials have fielded dozens of calls from Floridians who have spotted large, winged insects they think might be murder hornets. Experts say there's probably no reason to worry, unless of course you're a cicada.

TAMPA – Jon Lowe and Michelle Stencel spotted the alarming corpse of a winged critter at their Seminole Heights home last week.

There it was on the floor, the striped body of a dead wasp measuring maybe 2 inches long. Its rear-end bore a lethal-looking stinger.

“After reading about the Asian hornets in the papers, seeing this thing, it was a little bit scary,” Lowe told the Tampa Bay Times this week. “I’d never seen anything like it.”

Could it be one of those dreaded “murder hornets” we’ve been hearing so much about?

Michelle Stencel and John Lowe found this large creature dead at their Seminole Heights home and sent photos to authorities for identification. Could it be a murder hornet?
Michelle Stencel and John Lowe found this large creature dead at their Seminole Heights home and sent photos to authorities for identification. Could it be a murder hornet? [ Courtesy of Jon Lowe ]

Here’s some good news for Floridians: If you see a similarly-large, winged thing buzzing about your yard, it likely is not a murder hornet, according to those in the know.

Reports of murder hornets showing up in Washington state made for unnerving news in an already-unsettling year. Although they are actually Asian giant hornets, murder hornets earned the name for their ability to behead honeybees, an entire hive of them, raising worries they could decimate entire colonies of the uber-important pollinators.

Fun fact: Murder hornets, the world’s largest hornets, sport a stinger capable of piercing a beekeeper’s suit. The New York Times reports that the hornets kill up to 50 people a year in Japan. In some places, they also are considered a tasty treat as snacks and in drinks.

Since the news of the murder hornet’s arrival in the U.S., more than 100 Florida residents have contacted the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services with questions, sightings and photos of wasps on windshields. Some of them worried they had witnessed a murder hornet on the loose in the Sunshine State.

Luckily, probably not.

“They’re more likely cicada killers,” said Franco Ripple, spokesman for the state agency. Cicada killers “are just a large species of wasp here in Florida that are commonly misidentified as Asian giant hornets.”

Aka, murder hornets.

“If you saw a large black wasp with a couple ... of whitish markings on the abdomen, and you’re in Florida, it would probably be the cicada killer wasp,” said Phil Koehler, University of Florida emeritus professor of entomology.

Cicada killers are “solitary ground-nesting wasps,” according to Bill Kern, associate professor of entomology and nematology at the University of Florida’s Fort Lauderdale research center. The females prey on cicadas, those insects whose chirps and whirs fill our hot Florida summers.

And though the females can sting, they are not considered aggressive. Cicada killers can appear intimidating, and it hurts to get stung by one, Kern said, but the best way to avoid that is to wear shoes.

Experts also say that Florida is not the murder hornet’s kind of climate.

“There’s no evidence (they have) made it any further east than Washington state,” Ripple said.

He also said that if you think you’ve seen one — “or anything that’s worrisome, including those seed packets from China” — you can contact the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services online at dpihelpline@fdacs.gov or call (888) 397-1517.

The concerned couple in Seminole Heights sent pictures of their wasp carcass to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Center for Medical, Agricultural and Veterinary Entomology in Gainesville.

They got an email saying it was suspected of being a European hornet, which looks similar to the cicada killer. It “occurs throughout the U.S. and can sting if disturbed,” the email said, but normally isn’t a problem.

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