Experts found nearly 200 potential ‘murder hornet’ queens in the nest that was successfully eradicated by agriculture officials in Washington State last month.
In an operation on 24 October, entomologists destroyed the first-ever discovered US nest of the giant Asian insect after they were found in Blaine, north of Seattle.
The scientists had attached radio trackers to three insects caught in a trap, with one leading them to their nest. It was then successfully eradicated by members of the Washington State Department of Agriculture’s (WSDA) Pest Program.
The nest contained 108 cells which looked like queen hornets ready to emerge while another 76 had already spawned, according to the state agriculture officials.
Pictured: Two queens discovered during the operation in Blaine, Whatcom County, Washington
Washington State Department of Agriculture workers, wearing protective suits and working in pre-dawn darkness illuminated with red lamps, vacuum up a nest of Asian giant hornets from a tree on October 24 during a previous operation
It’s difficult to discern how many more queens would have survived because some don’t get enough nutrition before they leave the nest.
But for many, they leave and mate with males if they are waiting outside the nest. The queens then hibernate during the winter months and create new colonies in the spring.
Entomologists are concerned that the Asian giant hornets could kill off bee populations in North America. The ‘murder hornets’ can attack honeybee colonies and destroy their hives – sometimes in a matter of hours, according to the WSDA.
The aim for agriculture officials is to eradicate the species if possible, Sven Spichiger, the managing entomologist for the Washington State Department of Agriculture, told NBC News.
‘I’m very encouraged by the support we’ve received from the public, and our citizen scientists,’ he said. ‘And with that type of an effort and with everybody looking and immediately calling them in, we actually do stand a strong change.
‘So I’m cautiously optimistic we will achieve that goal.’
Murder hornets from the first nest in the US have been successfully sucked out of a tree cavity and placed on ice after experts discovered the nest in Washington state
A worker from the Washington State Department of Agriculture displays a canister of Asian giant hornets vacuumed from a nest in a tree behind him on October 24
Entomologists of the WSDA’s Pest Program wore protective suits and used dense foam padding to seal crevices in the nest found last month.
They then wrapped the tree in cellophane, leaving a single opening before inserting a vacuum hose to remove the hornets. The team removed 98 worker hornets, which will be used for scientific research.
‘It really seems like we got there just in the nick of time as our original vacuum extraction seemed to only give us workers,’ Spichiger added. ‘We only got queens four days later after we cracked it open, and so if any queens had already left the nest, it was just a few.’
After opening the nests, scientists found 190 larvae, 112 worker hornets and nine male hornets in addition to the queen count. The nest contained six combs with at least 776 cells, but Spichiger said some outer cells may have been damaged upon removal and not counted.
Entomologists first discovered the Asian giant hornet nest in a tree cavity on private property in Blaine, Whatcom County, close to the US-Canada border on 22 October.
In the last month, there have been several sightings of the invasive pests in the Blaine area of the state.
Workers from the WSDA’s Pest disconnect hoses from a canister of the Asian giant hornets vacuumed from a nearby tree
A Washington State Department of Agriculture workers holds two of the dead Asian giant hornets vacuumed from the nest in the tree on Oct 24
The first confirmed detection of the hornet in the US was in December 2019 near Blaine and the first live hornet was trapped this July. Just over 20 have been caught so far, all in Whatcom County.
The invasive insect is normally found in China, Japan, Thailand, South Korea, Vietnam and other Asian countries.
The Asian giant hornet is the world’s largest hornet at two inches and can decimate entire hives of honeybees, which are already under siege from problems like mites, diseases, pesticides and loss of food.
‘The hornets enter a “slaughter phase” where they kill bees by decapitating them. They then defend the hive as their own, taking the brood to feed their own young,’ the WSDA said. They have already destroyed six or seven hives in Washington state.
The bee population has been on a concerning decline for years and their eradication could have detrimental affects on the environment.
A survey by the U.S. National Agriculture Statistics Services showed that the population declined from six million hives in 1947 to 2.4 million hives in 2008, a 60 per cent reduction.
Despite their nickname, the hornets kill at most a few dozen people a year in Asia, and experts say it is probably far less but they do deliver painful stings to humans.
Hornets, wasps and bees typically found in the US kill an average of 62 people a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Murder Hornet statistics
Latin name: Vespa mandarinia
Adult length: 1 3/4 inches
Wingspan: Three inches
Sting length: Quarter of an inch
Description: Yellow face and large black and yellow striped abdomen. Large jaws and a noisy flier.
Asian giant hornets are more than double the size of honeybees, and have a wingspan measuring more than three inches
Natural habitat: Across Asia
Venom: It administers seven times more venom than a honeybee when it stings. This acts as a neurotoxin and can lead to seizures and cardiac arrests. The sting is described as incredibly painful.
Behavior: Insect emerges in April and nests in the ground. It predates on many insects, but particularly targets honeybees.
Risks Has a habit of sacking bee hives, decapitating the workers and stealing the young. The European honeybee has no defense against the invader. Its stings could also prove fatal to Americans.