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'Got 'em': Nest of 'murder hornets' taken down in Washington state to protect honeybees

John Bacon

The first nest of "murder hornets'' to be found in the United States was sucked into oblivion over the weekend by authorities in Blaine, Washington.

"Got ‘em. Vacuumed out several #AsianGiantHornets from a tree cavity near Blaine this morning," the state Agriculture Department said in a Twitter post. The post included a picture of what appeared dozens of the hornets in a clear tube.

Asian giant hornets – dubbed murder hornets – kill about a dozen people a year in Asian countries, where the insect is more common. But this nest was wiped out Saturday to protect honeybees in the Washington state area. The world’s largest hornets, which measure two inches long, can destroy entire hives of honeybees, critical to crops like raspberries and blueberries because they provide needed pollination.

It's not clear how the hornets – more common to China, Japan, Thailand, South Korea and Vietnam – migrated to the U.S. and Canada. The first confirmed detection of an Asian giant hornet in Washington was made in December 2019, and the first hornet was trapped in July. Several more were subsequently caught, all in Whatcom County near the Canadian border.

The initial reports set off a near-panic, with hundreds of people in Washington State reporting suspected murder hornet sightings. Few were confirmed, however.

The nest was inside the cavity of a tree on private property near an area cleared for a residential home. While Asian giant hornets normally nest in the ground, they will occasionally nest in dead trees.

The first 'murder hornets' nest was found,  set to be obliterated

Dozens of the hornets were seen entering and exiting the tree, so a department trapper collected two live Asian giant hornets Wednesday, caught in a new type of trap the agency had placed in the area. Two more hornets, also living, were found in another trap Thursday morning when agriculture department staffers arrived to tag the previously trapped hornets with radio trackers.

The entomologists were able to attach the trackers to three hornets, one of which led them to the discovery of the nest.

"The rumors are true - our entomologists located the first-ever #AsianGiantHornet nest in the U.S. late yesterday," the Agriculture Department tweeted last week.

If the hornet gains a foothold in Washington state, it could eventually spread down much of the West Coast, according to findings published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“We found many suitable climates in the U.S. and around the globe,” said study lead author Gengping Zhu, a postdoctoral scholar at Washington State University’s department of entomology.

Look into the eyes of this "murder hornet." The invasive species slaughters honeybees and can be deadly to humans.