At its Winter Press Tour presentation Thursday, the streaming platform announced a February 20 premiere date for Attack of the Murder Hornets, a documentary that examines the vicious, invasive species–formally known as Asian giant hornets–that have secured a beachhead in North America. The insects first showed up on this continent in 2019, displaying a nasty penchant for decapitating native honeybees by the thousands.
“I do see [them] as something totally evil and something that should not be here,” declared Ted McFall, a commercial beekeeper in Washington State who appears in the documentary. He was the subject of a New York Times article last May after murder hornets beheaded 60,000 of his bees.
“Hopefully we’re going to eradicate this thing so other bees are not going to have to suffer the same fate as that one particular colony,” McFall commented. “We depend on our bees…They’re more than just an insect for us so whenever something happens to them, especially in such a terrible and brutal way, it’s very upsetting.”
Asian giant hornets can measure up to two inches long. They sport a polished carapace and a bold paint job like a 1950s hotrod. It’s unclear how they got across the Pacific.
“We’re not 100-percent sure,” admitted entomologist Chris Looney, who works for the State of Washington. “They seem to match, genetically, specimens from Japan or Korea.”
Whether the homicidal wasps can be stopped before gaining more of a hold here remains a challenge for scientists.
“We don’t really understand if there’s something controlling the populations in its native range that it’s now released from and it’s going to go totally bonkers here or if we can expect more of less the same level of behavior and environmental impacts [as in Asia],” Looney said. “It’s one of those really nagging questions that I wish we knew more about.”
Michael Paul Stephenson (The American Scream, Best Worst Movie) directed the film, a work of nonfiction that incorporates some storytelling techniques associated with fiction, like POV shots.
“I’m a fan of horror and science fiction in genre films and when I first read that New York Times article back in May I was immediately drawn to just the character story and the odds being impossible against these beekeepers and these entomologists,” Stephenson explained. “It was interesting to look at this story through the lens of a fun science fiction, horror film.”
Executive producer Howard Swartz, SVP of production and development at Discovery, also noted the film’s balance between diversion and instruction.
“For us it was an absolute slam-dunk moment to take great entertainment value and show the great science that was being done in real time on a very present-tense genuine threat,” Swartz said. “The threat of an invasive species is obviously very real especially with our honeybees and how important they are to the overall ecosystem.”
Entomologists in Washington State set traps for the hornets and then attached a radio tracking device to a handful of them, with the help of glue and dental floss. That led them to a nest last October containing 100 or more of the creatures. The scientists promptly vacuumed them up for further study.
Murder hornet stings can prove fatal to humans. There is also a big risk to agriculture if the wasps kill off honeybees, which are vital to crop pollination.
Looney, the Washington entomologist, said the key to stopping the murder hornets’ conquest of North America lies in interrupting their life cycle: feeding and mating.
“They need the same things to proliferate that humans do,” he said, “food, shelter, happy times.”