Washington traps its first ‘murder hornet’; state will use infrared cameras to search for nests

An Asian giant hornet trapped by the Washington State Department of Agriculture is shown in an image tweeted by the agency on Friday. (Twitter via @WSDAgov)

The Washington State Department of Agriculture has trapped its first Asian giant hornet. An image of the 2-inch-long specimen shared by the agency on Friday served as a rather alarming reveal of what are commonly called “murder hornets.”

The hornet was found in a WSDA bottle trap earlier this month near Birch Bay in Whatcom County and was identified on Wednesday. It’s the first to be collected in a trap; five previous hornets were found naturally in the environment.

“This is encouraging because it means we know that the traps work,” Sven Spichiger, managing entomologist for the department said in a news release. “But it also means we have work to do.”

WSDA now plans to search for nests using infrared cameras and place additional traps to try and catch live specimens. If live hornets are caught, the department will attempt to tag and track them back to their colony and eradicate them. It’s important to destroy any nest by mid-September, before new reproducing queens and drones are created, to prevent the spread of the invasive pest, WSDA said.

(WSDA Photo)

The Asian giant hornet is the world’s largest species of hornet. The first-ever sightings occurred in the United States in December near Blaine, Wash. Sightings have also been confirmed in British Columbia last year and this year.

The hornets are known to attack and destroy honeybee hives — a few hornets can destroy a hive in a matter of hours. WSDA said hornets enter a “slaughter phase” where they kill bees by decapitating them.

A WSDA web page dedicated to the hornets warns people to use extreme caution if they encounter a hornet or nest. The stinger is longer and “more dangerous than any local bee or wasp.” The New York Times reported on the insects’ arrival this spring and said in Japan the hornets kill up to 50 people a year.

The likelihood of seeing one of the pests will increase in August and September, according to WSDA, because the number of hornet workers increases as a colony develops. Residents are encouraged to report sightings or the recovery of a specimen via a special form, email or by calling 1-800-443-6684.

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