Murder Hornets in Pacific Northwest
If you’ve been reading our blog posts for a while you know we’ve talked about these lethal Asian giant hornets a lot. We covered them in British Bees Face A New Danger, British Bees Threatened by Asian Hornets, Biggest Asian Hornet Nest Found in UK, and Asian Giant Hornets Threaten Honeybees in Pacific Northwest last December, when we reported that this invader was spotted close to the US/Canada border in the Washington State and British Columbia area.
The 'murder hornet' is officially known as the Asian giant hornet, or Vespa mandarinia. This beast is the world's largest species of hornet, growing to 2 inches long. It is 5 times larger than a honeybee, with a huge angry yellow-orange face and a black-and yellow-striped body. Scientists say it only takes 6 of these large insects to kill 30,000 honeybees.
This insect has a horrifying reputation, and videos in our previous posts are for the strong of heart. According to the Washington State Department of Agriculture, these beasts have been spotted there and traps have been set in the area of Blaine. First sightings were last December and they are known to emerge and become active in the spring.
Todd Murray, a specialist in invasive species at WSU’s Department of Entomology, stated that it is a shockingly large hornet. They are not known to be aggressive towards people or domesticated pets, but if provoked they will attack. If a person accidentally stumbles into a nest, they are very likely to be harmed. If they are allergic, they could go into shock. The more stings you get, the more likely it is you might die from this potent neurotoxin.
The Chinese name for hornets is “hu feng” and this Asian giant hornet can grow to 5 cm long with a 6mm stinger. The stinger is capable of stinging right through a beekeeper’s suit and can inflict almost seven times more venom than a honeybee sting. Their venom is more toxic, and even worse, this hornet can sting multiple times, unlike a honeybee that can only sting once before it dies.
They have killed humans, for instance it was reported that between July and October 2013 these hornets killed 41 people and injured 1,600 in Shaanxi province, China. In Japan, every year people are hospitalized for multiple stings that turn lethal and up to 50 people die annually.
The Asian giant hornet is a dangerous invasive species and the deadliest enemy of the honeybee, which is their main target. They attack beehives and go into a "slaughter phase," often wiping out the entire colony within hours by decapitating each bee in a cold, methodical manner. Then they make the hive their own and feed the bee brood to their young.
The European honeybee population in Japan is routinely devastated by these hornets, and has no defense if the colony is invaded by multiple hornets. If just one hornet finds its way into a hive, the bees can form a ball on top of it and generate sufficient heat to cook the insect to death.
The WSDA has an entire web page dedicated to these insects and sightings of them, due to the threat they pose to honeybees, the environment and the economy if they are not eradicated. If you decide to try to trap them, you are advised to visit their page first for tips and to be extremely cautious. A big warning on a red banner reminds you to be careful anywhere near these insects. Do not try to kill them on your own, advises entomologist Chris Looney from the WSDA. Call as soon as you can to report the sighting, since this is the only hope to totally eradicate this voracious predator with a taste for honeybees before they do grave harm to them. Since standard beekeeping suits are poor protection against the sting of this hornet, Looney says the WSDA has ordered reinforced suits from China.
Click here for where to report a sighting in British Columbia, Canada.
If they are not eradicated, beekeepers might hesitate to bring their bees out for pollination of such northwest crops as blueberries, cherries and apples, so this could adversely affect the economy and the food chain. Beekeepers might also grow disheartened if they lose entire hives to hornets and give up.
This is the perfect time to wipe these hornets out before they get a firm foothold in North America, specifically Washington state. Only a few have been spotted so far, but their life cycle begins in April and they do most damage in late summer and autumn when they seek protein to raise next year’s queens.
While nobody is sure how the Asian giant hornets got here, they often move around the world on global cargo ships, sometimes not accidentally. This is an invasive species that needs to be wiped out while populations are still small and before it gets any better established, or it will make “forever changes” that can’t be undone. WSU Extension scientists are partnering with citizens, beekeepers and state agencies to identify and report this insect.
Citizens are urged to download the WA Invasive species smartphone app so they can quickly report sightings.
To report an Asian Giant Hornet sighting, contact the WSDA Pest Program at 1-800-443-6684, firstname.lastname@example.org or online at agr.wa.gov/hornets. For questions about protecting honey bees from hornets, contact WSU Extension scientist Tim Lawrence at (360) 639-6061 or email@example.com.
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