SEATTLE -- The world’s largest hornet, which has an appetite for honey bees, has been found in Washington state, where entomologists were making plans to wipe it out.
The hornet was sighted for the first time in the U.S. last December, when the state Department of Agriculture verified two reports near Blaine, Washington, close to the Canadian border. It also received two probable, but unconfirmed reports from sites in Custer, Washington, south of Blaine.
"Just a handful of hornets can destroy a hive in an hour and a half. The average time is 105 minutes," said Chris Looney with WSDA.
The hornets are not known to bother people or pets, but they will attack if they feel threatened. It is not known how they got here but Looney says the most likely cause if from a cargo ship between Asia and North America. WSDA is urging the public to report any sightings.
Here is a description of an Asian Giant Hornet from the WSDA:
- 1.5 to 2 inches long
- Large orange/yellow head with prominent eyes
- Black and yellow striped abdomen
- Forms large colonies that usually nest in the ground
Back in April, the WSDA set up 60 sap traps in Whatcom County to attract queens that emerge in the spring to feed on sap. This summer, it will set up traps in 330 more sites.
The WSDA is also asking beekeepers and residents to set up bottle traps using an experimental lure of orange juice and rice cooking wine, particularly in Whatcom, Skagit, Island, San Juan, Jefferson, and Clallum counties at the beginning of July and keep them up through October.
Looney says the hope is for the traps to identify hornets nests so they can be eradicated.
"A researcher Washington State University just started doing a preliminary species distribution model and this one suggests that a lot of North America will be a good habitat for the hornet if we can't control it, so eradication is really our focus. There's no reason why it won't like Seattle as much as Blaine," said Looney.
The hornet can sting through most beekeeper suits, deliver nearly seven times the amount of venom as a honey bee, and sting multiple times, the department said, adding that it ordered special reinforced suits from China.
The hornet’s life cycle begins in April, when queens emerge from hibernation, feed on plant sap and fruit, and look for underground dens to build their nests. Hornets are most destructive in the late summer and early fall. Like a marauding army, they attack honey bee hives, killing adult bees and devouring larvae and pupae, WSU said.
Their stings are big and painful, with a potent neurotoxin. Multiple stings can kill humans, even if they are not allergic, the university said.
Farmers depend on honey bees to pollinate many important northwest crops such as apples, blueberries and cherries. With the threat from giant hornets, “beekeepers may be reluctant to bring their hives here,” said Island County Extension scientist Tim Lawrence.
If you would like to set up a trap or report a sighting, you can get more information here.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.