Washington state entomologists have so far destroyed two nests of the Asian giant hornet – dubbed the ‘deadly hornet’ – so far this year and they plan to eradicate another nest as they attempt to eliminate the bugs, an invasive species that can kill bees and that first appeared in the Pacific Northwest in 2019.
The Washington State Department of Agriculture said on social media Saturday that it had found two nests harboring the insects, the largest species of hornet in the world, and destroyed one. Amber Betts, a spokeswoman for the department, said on Monday that a first nest had been destroyed a few weeks earlier.
“The goal is to eradicate them completely,” she said in a telephone interview, adding that the hornets would be considered completely eradicated after “two consecutive years of negative results”.
She added: “At the moment, we’re just doing our best to see how many there are.”
Giant Asian hornets were first reported in the United States in December 2019 in Washington state, when a resident of Blaine, a town near the border with Canada, found one of the dead bugs. . He was handed over to state entomologists and the hunt for more hornets began.
Agriculture officials have issued an alert that hornets could pose a threat to bees, whose hives can be wiped out by hornets within hours. The department has set up a reporting line and links for sightings, relying on the public to report locations, Ms Betts said.
As state officials tried to trap more hornets, they also turned to a service from the United States Federal Department of Agriculture, which helped them track the hornets using radio beacons. used to study the movements of spotted lanterns, an invasive species. causing trouble on the east coast.
The approach worked. A hornet, secured with a stuck-on tracker, eventually led entomologists to a nest about eight feet from a tree, in an area of forest and farmland about 25 miles south of Vancouver. In October last year, the state Department of Agriculture announced it had destroyed the nest, the first time it had been eradicated in the United States.
A team plugged the nest with moss, wrapped the tree in plastic and vacuumed the hornets, officials said.
Ms Betts said the same techniques were used for nest removal this year, with a medic on hand in case a hornet stings someone. (The hornet’s stinger is long enough to pierce a beekeeper’s suit, and its sting has been described in excruciating terms.) Protective gear was used by the crew during operations, which also involved the injection of dioxide of carbon to immobilize the hornets, she said.
She added that a queen hornet was kidnapped on Saturday.
Ms Betts said the four nests found so far have all been in the same general area, within a few miles of each other in northern Whatcom County.
Scientists are not sure how or when the insects arrived in the United States. The USDA said the hornets may have been introduced into the country through illegal imports of live specimens used for food and medicinal purposes.
The nickname of the insects (“murderous hornets”) comes from their violent behavior: they attack and destroy honey bee hives, killing the bees by beheading them during what entomologists call their “slaughter phase”. They then invade and appropriate the hives, feeding their young with larvae and bee pupae.
“While they generally don’t attack people or pets, they can attack when threatened,” the Washington State Department of Agriculture said in a statement. “Their sting is longer than that of a bee and their venom is more toxic. They can also sting several times. For people with allergies, the sting can be fatal.
Hornets are distinguished by their yellow heads and can be almost two inches long with stingers about six millimeters long, or about a quarter of an inch. They can wipe out entire hives of bees, which are important pollinators for crops.