The Washington State Department of Agriculture on Thursday announced that it located and eradicated the first nest of Asian giant hornets, better known by the much more catchy murder hornets, in the state this year. The nest contained some 1,500 hornets “in various stages of development,” WSDA said in a press release, and photos released by the department show many were in the pre-murder larval stage.
The discovery of the nest is good news in the sense that humans were able to murder the murder hornets before they could murder us or endangered bees. The bad news is, this is the third year in a row that murder hornets have been discovered in the state, where the homicidal insects were first spotted in 2019. The continual discovery of Asian giant hornets raises the specter that they could become an established invasive species in the U.S., which is why WSDA entomologists are encouraging the public to continue reporting any murder hornet they see.
“While we are glad to have found and eradicated this nest so early in the season, this detection proves how important public reporting continues to be,” Sven Spichiger, a WSDA managing entomologist, said in a statement. “We expect there are more nests out there and, like this one, we hope to find them before they can produce new queens. Your report may be the one that leads us to a nest.”
WSDA staffers discovered the nest after trapping a murder hornet and attaching a tracker to it, which led them to a dead tree in Whatcom County containing the nest. The crew then vacuumed out 113 worker hornets before diving into the writhing heart of the nest, which the department said contained nine layers. They then removed the full nest, which they transported to Washington State University Extension in Bellingham “for further analysis.” WSDA caught another 67 adult murder hornets during the nest removal.
As the photo below shows, this is a serious operation. So please, if you see a murder hornet, call the professionals rather than trying to vacuum them up yourself.
Formally known as vespa mandarinia, Asian giant hornets are the largest hornet species on Earth. Queens can grow larger than 2 inches (5 centimeters) in length, while workers are generally around 1.5 inches (4 centimenters) long. Native to areas spanning from Southeast Asia to eastern Russia, these bloodthirsty bugs are said to kill up to 50 people per year in Japan (though that’s not an official number). A single sting from a murder hornet likely won’t kill you, but it is still going to suck. Shunichi Makino, a researcher at Japan’s Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute, told National Geographic that it felt like being “stabbed by a red-hot needle,” and that the pain persisted for days.
Some people also eat them.
As hellish as these flying nightmares are for humans who encounter them on a bad day, they’re far worse for the paper wasp and honey bee populations they feed on. During the aforementioned “slaughter phase,” murder hornets can knock out entire hives, cutting off the heads of bees and carting their bodies back to the nest to feed the gaping maws of larva within. This is particularly bad news for the U.S. honeybee population, which has been dying off at an alarming rate for years. U.S. beekeepers reported an average loss of 45.5% of their managed bee populations from April 2020 to April 2021, according to an annual survey conducted by the Bee Informed Partnership. Bees are threatened by both climate change and industrial agriculture. The last thing they need is another human-introduced invasive species coming to murder them in their homes.
As for the murder hornets, WSDA is asking the public to continue reporting any and all sightings. If you think you’ve spotted a murder hornet, the department asks that you email them at email@example.com or by calling 1-800-443-6684.