'Murder Hornet' Trapped in Washington State for First Time, Offering Hope of Eradicating Them

Asian giant hornet

Washington has trapped its first Asian giant hornet, the first step toward what state officials hope will be the eradication of the invasive insects from the country.

The hornet was found July 14 in a bottle trap set near Birch Bay in Whatcom County, and state entomologists confirmed its identity Wednesday, according to a statement on the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA)'s website.

The Asian giant hornet is the world's largest hornet. It's known to some researchers as the "murder hornet" -- though Washington state officials don't use that moniker. The hornets can slaughter an entire honeybee colony in a few hours, and their excruciating stings kill an average of 30 to 50 people a year in Japan.

Their presence in United States was first documented late last year in Blaine, Whatcom County. Scientists have since embarked on a full-scale hunt, worried that the invaders could decimate already-declining bee populations in the United States and establish such a deep presence that all hope for eradication could be lost.

"This is our window to keep it from establishing," Chris Looney, a WSDA entomologist, told The New York Times this spring. "If we can't do it in the next couple of years, it probably can't be done."

This was the first hornet to be found in a trap instead of out in the wild like the state's five previous confirmed sightings.

That's good news, said Sven Spichiger, managing entomologist for the department, because it means the traps work.

However, it also means a new colony has been formed since the first confirmed sightings of the hornet in the United States in December, so the department has work to do, Spichiger said at a news conference Friday.

He said WSDA will look for nests using infrared cameras and try to catch live specimens, tag them and track them back to their colony.

Once a colony is found, the area will be cordoned off and the nest will be destroyed at night, he said.

The hope is to have that done before mid-September, when the hornets will hatch new queens and drones, Spichiger said.

"Destroying the nest before new queens emerge and mate will prevent the spread of this invasive pest," according to WSDA's statement.

Asian giant hornets have a distinctive look, with a cartoonishly fierce face featuring teardrop eyes like Spider-Man, orange and black stripes that extend down its body like a tiger, and broad, wispy wings like a small dragonfly. They have mandibles shaped like spiked shark fins, which they use to decapitate whole colonies of honeybees before occupying their hive, feeding on their pupae and larvae, and then absconding with the worker bees' thoraxes to feed to their own young.

People can build and set traps on their property, report sightings online at agr.wa.gov/hornets or submit questions to the WSDA Pest Program at hornets@agr.wa.gov or 1-800-443-6684.

Information from The New York Times is included in this report.

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