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First 'murder hornet' nest in US is found near Canadian border

By Christine Clarridge, The Seattle Times on

Published in News & Features

SEATTLE — After weeks of trapping and searching, entomologists from the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) have found an Asian giant hornet nest on private property in Blaine. It's the first such nest found in the U.S., and the agency will set out to destroy it Saturday.

Four live Asian giant hornets, known to some researchers as "murder hornets," were caught in two traps this week and tagged, WSDA spokesperson Karla Sapp said Friday.

One was followed back to its nest on Thursday.

"The nest is inside the cavity of a tree located on private property near an area cleared for a residential home," Sapp said in an email. "Dozens of the hornets were seen entering and exiting the tree while the WSDA team was present."

The agency has been keen to find Asian giant hornet nests since the insects' presence in the United States was first detected in December in Blaine, and another was trapped in July of this year. Blaine is in the northwest corner of Washington.

At nearly 2 inches long, Asian giant hornets are the world's largest hornets; they have a distinct orange face and dark, teardrop-shaped eyes. They are an invasive species, but they seem to find the Pacific Northwest to be a hospitable new habitat, according to a recent study.

Scientists worry they could decimate honeybee populations in the U.S., which are on a decline.

"Destroying the nest before new queens emerge and mate will prevent the spread of this invasive pest," the WSDA wrote in a statement this summer.

The hornets are set to enter what state entomologists call the "slaughter phase," when they can kill an entire honeybee hive in a matter of hours.

 

During this phase, WSDA managing entomologist Sven-Erik Spichiger said, the hornets "visit apiaries, basically mark a hive, attack it in force, removing every bee from the hive, decapitating them, killing all of the workers and then spending the next few days harvesting the brood and the pupae out of the hive as a food source."

It's this process that earns the giant hornets their scary nickname.

As many as 50 people die each year from their stings in Japan. But Asian giant hornets don't generally attack people unprompted, and we shouldn't be too afraid of them, David Crowder, an entomology professor at Washington State University, told The Seattle Times in September.

"The name 'murder hornet' worries a lot of people," he said. "And while it's true the insects can kill people if they sting you enough times or if you have an allergic reaction to the sting, that's not fundamentally different from other wasps and bees that can also kill people."

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(Seattle Times staff reporter Elise Takahama contributed to this report.)

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