Scientists found their first dead murder hornet of 2021 in the U.S. Yeah, the ones with stings that feel “like having red-hot thumbtacks” stabbed into your skin and spit painful venom into humans’ eyes. Those ones. Not great news, perhaps, but don’t freak out too much yet.
This month, a resident of Marysville, Washington—just north of Seattle—notified state authorities that she found what appeared to be one of those awful creatures’ bodies. State and federal scientists examined it and the Washington Department of Agriculture confirmed that indeed, it was a male murder hornet’s corpse.
Something was different about this bug, though: It had different coloring than those found in the state last year, and tests showed its DNA didn’t match up with the specimens found in Washington and Canada last year. Its body was also very dried out.
That all leads officials to believe that it’s likely the corpse of a previous season’s model of murder hornet rather than signs of a fresh batch. They also noted that new male hornets don’t normally emerge until July at the earliest and that there’s no clear way for the hornet to have gotten into Marysville. Still, the federal officials plan to look around the region and provide support just to be safe.
“We will work with [Washington Department of Agriculture] to survey the area to verify whether a population exists in Snohomish County,” Osama El-Lissy, deputy administrator for the federal Department of Agriculture’s Plant Protection and Quarantine program, said in a statement. “USDA will continue to provide technical expertise and monitor the situation in the state.”
The feds have also provided Washington with funding to find and kill the hornets, as well as to research populations’ genetics, just in case any more bodies—or worse yet, live hornets—are found.
The bugs, known more scientifically as Asian giant hornets, were found in Washington State last year that, marking the first time one of their breeding grounds was discovered in the U.S. These are the world’s largest hornets, and while they are a menace to human society, it’s Americans bees that are really at risk. Murder hornets are known for destroying honeybee hives—which are already under threat—and American bees have no natural defenses against these invasive pests. That could have huge implications for wild bees as well as ones used to help pollinate crops. Bees, of course, are already facing a variety of threats from pesticides and climate change, so the added pressure of being slaughtered by an invasive species is not a welcome development.
Officials said the discovery shows how important citizen science and reports can be to their operations.
“This new report continues to underscore how important public reporting is for all suspected invasive species, but especially Asian giant hornet,” Sven Spichiger, Washington Department of Agriculture managing entomologist, said in the release. “We’ll now be setting traps in the area and encouraging citizen scientists to trap in Snohomish and King counties. None of this would have happened without an alert resident taking the time to snap a photo and submit a report.”
So if you see what you think is a murder hornet, let someone know. It might not be worth worrying about too much, but it’s better to be safe than stung.