The murder-hornet-hunting heroes at the Washington State Department of Agriculture have successfully trapped a male specimen — the first of its kind found stateside.
If you’re keeping score at home, that brings the grand total of murder hornets found in Washington State to seven, all in Whatcom County. Thoughts and prayers for the folks there, as they obviously must have pissed off some eldritch deity to be plagued by these terrifying flying horrors.
The capture was a bit of a shock, as the WSDA didn’t expect to see any male Asian giant hornets (the murder hornets’ only slightly less scary scientific name) for at least a few more weeks. The males of the species are typically still hibernating around this time of year, only emerging in late Northern Hemisphere summer and early autumn to hunt for food to sustain the next year’s queen.
“Trapping a male Asian giant hornet in July initially came as a surprise,” Sven Spichiger, the agency’s managing entomologist, said in a press release this week. “But further examination of the research and consultation with international experts confirmed that a few males can indeed emerge early in the season.”
The WSDA said this latest specimen, which you can check out in the image below (cw: obvious nightmare fuel), was caught in a bottle trap near Custer, Washington on July 29 and processed in the agency’s entomology lab on August 13. That’s the same area where authorities found a dead queen earlier this year and where a suspected bee kill was reported in 2019.
About 8 kilometres to the west, the team caught their first murder hornet, an unmated queen, earlier in July, a promising sign that their makeshift traps were up to the task of eradicating this invasive species. With murder hornets growing up to 5 centimetres long, they don’t fit in any traditional hornet traps on the market, so authorities have started DIYing their own, using rope, soda bottles, and mixtures of orange juice and rice cooking wine, the latter of which discourages bees so local species don’t accidentally get trapped.
Scientists are still trying to figure out how murder hornets, which are native to eastern and southeast Asia, got to North America in the first place, with the prevailing theory being that they may have stowed away on ships or cargo planes. Sightings of dead specimens first began cropping up in 2019 throughout northwestern Washington State and Canada, and additional sightings since suggest that the species is dispersed over a wider area than experts originally thought.
And that discovery has some terrifying implications. Murder hornets kill up to 50 people in Japan every year, and they’re an even bigger threat to honeybees since these things can tear through entire colonies in a matter of hours, ripping off the heads of bees and smashing up their bodies to feed. Some species of bees in Asia have developed a defence against murder hornets, and it’s honestly one of the most metal things I’ve ever seen: they swarm the hornet and buzz in unison, literally cooking it to death with their collective body heat.
North American honeybee populations, though, have built up no such defences, and with beekeepers across the U.S. losing over 40 per cent of their colonies in the last few years due to environmental factors, they really don’t need another threat.
The WSDA’s next step is trapping a live hornet, tagging it, and tracking it back to its nest to exterminate the entire colony, ideally before their life cycle starts anew in late September and this invasive species spreads even further.