They searched, they found, they destroyed. But is it Mission: Accomplished? Scientists in Washington state say, “Not so fast.”
It was about a year ago when the first Asian giant hornet, a pest not native to the United States, was identified in Washington. (See “Giant Hornets: Scariest Insect?” and “Hunting More Murder Hornets.”) Soon after, another showed up. And another. It was enough to convince bug experts that a nest was established in the area. That theory proved to be true, and in late October, determined researchers tracked down that nest and destroyed it.
They found the colony of so-called murder hornets in a tree in Whatcom County near the Canadian border. The nest was about the size of a basketball. Previously captured hornets fitted with radio trackers led the scientists to what they hope was the single buzzing hub of the hornets’ bad business on this continent.
“We got there just in the nick of time,” says entomologist Sven-Erik Spichiger. The team found 500 live specimens of the Asian giant hornet in the nest. Among them were nearly 200 queens—each with the potential to start her own nest. Imagine the swarms they could eventually spawn!
The team destroyed the entire population, from larvae to workers to queens. But does that mean the threat is over? No one can say for sure. To be on the safe side, the scientists are assuming that other nests already exist. They say it is impossible to know if any queens had escaped before the first nest was destroyed.
So they must remain diligent, always on guard, watching and listening for other reports of sightings in the area. According to the Washington State Department of Agriculture, the murder hornet eradication project will stay focused on its task for at least three more years.
Spichiger says it is impossible to determine how the hornets got to the area. But his goal is to wipe them out before they get established in North America.
(Entomologist Sven Spichiger displays a canister of Asian giant hornets vacuumed from a nest in a tree behind him in Blaine, Washington. AP/Elaine Thompson)