Did a May 6 1993 ‘Simpsons’ Episode Feature an ‘Asian Flu’ and ‘Murder Bees’?

Almost every major global event has a purported Simpsons episode predicting it, and COVID-19 was no different — but a  variation of the 2020 claim that The Simpsons predicted COVID-19 snapped back with a second claim the same episode also predicted “murder bees”:

On May 6 2020, sports writer Darren Rovell published the above tweet, with a 17-second video. He wrote:

“The Simpsons doesn’t predict the future…there’s just so many episodes…”

May 6, 1993: A Simpsons episode plot has the town of Springfield getting sick with a flu that originates in Asia.

While the town begs for a vaccine, murder bees show up.

Claim One: The Simpsons Predicted the COVID-19 Pandemic

In the excerpt above, we emphasized the “murder bees show up” portion — because we addressed the claim that The Simpsons predicted coronavirus back in early February 2020, more than a month before COVID-19 was officially a pandemic:

We’ve linked that page for additional reading, but as we explained at the end, the earlier claim was embellished to shoehorn the episode in question (“Marge in Chains”) to fit the then-emerging novel coronavirus:

Although it is true a 1993 episode of The Simpsons, “Marge in Chains,” involved an illness it called “Osaka Flu,” the “CORONA VIRUS” screengrab accompanying the rumor was a hoax. Additionally, in the context of entertainment about epidemiology was neither prescient nor unexpected — coronaviruses were identified decades before even the 1993 Simpsons episode, and the episode was not about a strain of coronavirus to begin with.

In March 2020, “Marge in Chains” co-writer Bill Oakley described the meme about The Simpsons predicting coronavirus as “gross” and misleading:

“I don’t like it being used for nefarious purposes,” Oakley told the Hollywood Reporter of the episode he cowrote with Josh Weinstein. “The idea that anyone misappropriates it to make coronavirus seem like an Asian plot is terrible. In terms of trying to place blame on Asia — I think that is gross.”

COVID-19 and Murder Bees

In early May 2020, a coronavirus-weary social media turned to news about something other than COVID-19 — an emerging “murder bees” rumor.

According to Smithsonian Magazine, “murder bees” (also known as Asian Giant Hornets) did not in fact follow COVID-19, and do not really pose a massive threat to Americans:

The Asian giant hornet is a big, mean-looking insect with a potent sting. Their queens can grow to be up to two inches long and their quarter-inch stingers can pierce normal beekeeping attire. They are also voracious predators capable of massacring entire honey bee hives in a matter of hours—decapitating thousands of the hive’s adult bees and absconding with the helpless larvae to feed the hornets’ own brood.

As their name suggests, the hornets are native to Asia, but at the tail end of 2019, they were seen in North America for the first time, reports Mike Baker for the New York Times.

The four confirmed sightings of the Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia) in the United States, along with two more in Canada, occurred in 2019 between September and December. The American sightings were all of individual hornets, but in September, a nest was found and destroyed on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, reported Sean Boynton for Global News.

Those facts, of course, did not prevent the inevitable “murder hornets” or “murder bees” memes of May 2020:

The Murder Hornet Invasion refers to a series of jokes made following a May 2020 New York Times article about the discovery of Asian Giant Hornet, known colloquially as “Murder Hornets,” in the United States. The report came amid the coronavirus, inspiring a series of memes about overwhelming catastrophic events in rapid succession (similar to April 2020 Disaster Predictions). The world’s largest hornets, the Asian Giant Hornet kills roughly 50 people annually.

That colloquial name for Asian Giant Hornets, “murder bees,” proved to be a popular humor topic on Twitter:

Commenters quipped that their purported arrival (which actually came before COVID-19) bore all the hallmarks of plot-crowding:

Claim Two: The Simpsons Predicted the COVID-19 Pandemic Would be Accompanied by ‘Murder Bees’

Once “murder bees” took hold as a chapter in the COVID-19 pandemic, it seemed that the internet endeavored to determine whether The Simpsons predicted that too (even though the show was already rumored to have “predicted coronavirus.”)

Rovell’s tweet above was a retweet of a May 5 2020 tweet featuring the footage:

That clip was from “Marge in Chains,” and shows Springfield’s angry mob gathering to demand a cure or “placebo” for Osaka flu. As their attention turns to a placebo, one resident suggests that a nearby truck might contain them during the following exchange:

[Woman] “Where do we get these ‘placebos?'”

[Man] “Maybe they’re in this truck!”

The crowd then shakes the white box truck, which contains wooden crates. One is labeled “killer bees,” which are agitated and begin attacking the crowd.

Lest anyone think the show was prescient in including “killer bees” in 1993, the insects commonly called “killer bees” (African honey bees) showed up in Texas in 1990 (and of course, generated a panicked news buzz — get it? — at that time):

In 1956, some colonies of African Honey Bees were imported into Brazil, with the idea of cross-breeding them with local populations of Honey Bees to increase honey production. In 1957, twenty-six African queens, along with swarms of European worker bees, escaped from an experimental apiary about l00 miles south of Sao Paulo. These African bee escapees have since formed hybrid populations with European Honey Bees, both feral and from commercial hives. They have gradually spread northward through South America, Central America, and eastern Mexico, progressing some 100 to 200 miles per year. In 1990, Killer Bees reached southern Texas, appeared in Arizona in 1993, and found their way to California in 1995. They are expected to form colonies in parts of the southern United States.

The Simpsons Didn’t Predict the COVID-19 Pandemic, Nor Did the Show Predict ‘Murder Hornets’

After we addressed the initial claim that The Simpsons predicted the emergence of a novel coronavirus in February 2020, a co-writer of the episode expressed disapproval of the rumors (and the claims were edited to fit the emerging novel virus even then.) In May 2020, the “murder hornets” meme began, which social media users inevitably linked with the appearance of “killer bees” in “Marge in Chains.” But “killer bees” were first found in Texas in 1990, three years before “Marge in Chains” aired. Referencing an existing invasive species did not constitute any sort of “prediction.”