By NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS Associated Press
SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Scientists will set about 1,000 traps to eradicate the Asian giant hornet in Washington this year, the state‘s Department of Agriculture said Tuesday.
Scientists believe the hornets, first spotted in the Pacific Northwest in 2019, are confined to Whatcom County, which lies on the Canadian border just north of Seattle.
“We’re doing pretty well at the moment,” said Sven-Erik Spichiger, who is leading the fight against the hornets for the Ministry of Agriculture. “We know where the nests are in Whatcom County.”
The insects are the largest hornets in the world, with queens that can grow up to 5 centimeters long. They are considered invasive in North America for their ability to kill other bee and hornet species, earning them the nickname “murder hornets.”
Hornets caught in traps help scientists find the location of nests. The state eradicated three nests last year, all near the town of Blaine, Washington, and there have been no confirmed reports of Asian giant hornet nests so far this year, Spichiger said.
Most traps are set in northern Whatcom County, but some are set in the city of Bellingham, he said.
The agency also encourages residents to set their own traps to cover more ground.
The hornets will not be considered eradicated until Washington has gone three full years without detections, the agency said. The first confirmed record of an Asian giant hornet in Washington was in December 2019.
Spichiger said the Entomological Society of America is also working to come up with an official name for the insect. Asian giant hornet or the popular nickname murder hornet are not official names, he said.
The hornets can also deliver a painful sting that can result in death if a person is repeatedly stung. Asian giant hornets rarely attack humans unless provoked. About 30 to 50 people die each year from the stings of the Asian giant hornet in Japan, one of its native habitats.
Meanwhile, hornets, wasps and bees typically found in the United States kill an average of 62 people a year, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
The fight to prevent the Asian giant hornet, an apex predator, from gaining a foothold in North America is being fought primarily in Whatcom County, Washington, and the nearby Fraser Valley in British Columbia. Whatcom County is approximately 55 miles (88 kilometers) south of Vancouver, British Columbia.
Another effort is underway to determine exactly where these hornets came from in Asia to figure out how they get across the Pacific Ocean, scientists said. The theory is they are crossing on cargo ships, officials said.
Hornet queens tend to emerge from winter quarters in the spring and establish nests for worker hornets to give birth to. The hornets begin attacking and destroying beneficial honey bees later in the year, and eat the bees for protein as they breed more hornets.
A small group of Asian giant hornets can kill an entire honey bee hive in a matter of hours. Honey bees pollinate many crops in Washington’s billion-dollar agricultural industry.