Officials track down first-ever ‘murder hornet’ nest in Washington

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PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Officials in Washington state announced Friday that they’ve found an Asian giant hornet nest, the first of its kind in the U.S.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we did it,” agency spokeswoman Karla Salp said at a virtual briefing. Bad weather delayed plans Friday to destroy the nest found in Blaine, a city north of Seattle.

The nest is about the size of a basketball and contains an estimated 100 to 200 hornets, according to scientists, who suspected it was in the area ever since the invasive insects began appearing late last year. Officials have said it’s not known how they arrived in North America.

The Asian giant hornet, also known as the “murder hornet,” made headlines this year after its presence was announced in late December 2019. The insect is the world’s largest hornet and preys on other insects, including honey bees, of which an entire hive can be wiped out in a matter of hours by a small group of Asian giant hornets, according to the Washington State Department of Agriculture.

Entomologists with Washington’s agricultural department said they were able to find the nest, which was inside the cavity of a dead tree on a property in Blaine on Thursday, after using dental floss to attach radio trackers to three out of four hornets that had been caught in a new kind of trap being used by the agency on Wednesday and Thursday.

One of the hornets, a female, managed to chew off her own tag said Sven Spichiger, managing entomologist with the Washington State Department of Agriculture.

One of the hornets being tracked ultimately led the entomologists “through a heavily wooded area” to the nest inside the tree, which had “dozens of hornets” leaving and coming back to the nest, according to the agency.

“We asked everybody to stay back because it was a very strong signal,” Spichiger said. He added that there is still a chance that the nest could be an “occupied space where they have robbed a honey bee nest, but that is unlikely.”

Officials plan to eradicate the nest on Saturday at 4 a.m.; the property owner has given permission to remove the nest and even the tree if necessary.

“We extract them alive,” he said. “We will kill them.”

Workers will wear thick protective suits that can prevent the 6-millimeter-long stingers of the hornets from hurting workers, Spichiger said. They also will wear face shields because the trapped hornets can spit a painful venom into their eyes.

“We were totally anticipating it to be a ground nest,” Spichiger said, adding that they had to secure scaffolding to be able to reach the nest Saturday.

The crew will wrap the tree and use vacuum extraction to pull the hornets out of the nest.

Asian giant hornet traps have been set by agricultural teams and citizen scientists throughout the state, and officials are monitoring the network’s sightings in an ongoing effort to eradicate the nests and the species from the U.S.

The invasive insect is normally found in China, Japan, Thailand, South Korea, Vietnam and other Asian countries. Washington state and the Canadian province of British Columbia are the only places the hornets have been found on the continent.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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