Finally, some good news this year.
Entomologists in Washington have destroyed the first nest of Asian giant hornets, or murder hornets, as they’ve become known in our collective nightmares, discovered in the U.S., the Associated Press reports.
Crews clad head-to-toe in thick protective gear, looking like they stepped straight out of HBO’s Chernobyl, worked to vacuum the invasive species from the hollow of a tree into bulky canisters on Saturday. If it looks like overkill, remember that these hornets didn’t earn such a terrifying nickname for nothing: Their stings have been described as “like having red-hot thumbtacks” stabbed into you, and the suits keep workers protected from their 6-millimetre-long stingers. The crew came equipped with face shields, too. Because did I mention these things have also been known to spit painful venom into people’s eyes?
— Elaine Thompson /// journalism matters (@ElaineMThompson) October 24, 2020
After a weeklong search, the Washington State Department of Agriculture discovered the basketball-sized nest on Friday after outfitting three hornets with radio trackers using dental floss. The nest, which contained an estimated 100 to 200 hornets according to the scientists, was found in the city of Blaine near the Canadian border where several murder hornets have been spotted, the AP reports.
Officials suspect that additional nests could be close by, and will continue searching the area. The tree the nest was found in will also be cut down to suss out any newborn hornets and learn if any queens have already left the hive, scientists said, per the AP. A news briefing on the status of the nest is scheduled for Monday, the agency tweeted.
Got ‘em. Vacuumed out several #AsianGiantHornets from a tree cavity near Blaine this morning. Further details will be provided at a press conference on Monday. Staff not available for interviews before then. pic.twitter.com/31kgAUuJd0
— Washington State Department of Agriculture (@WSDAgov) October 24, 2020
Asian giant hornets are the largest hornet known on Earth and their queens can reach over 2 inches (5 cm) long. The nickname murder hornet comes from the havoc they wreak on their prey, decapitating bees and other insects with their “mandibles shaped like spiked shark fins” and decimating entire hives in a few hours. Technically, they can survive on tree sap alone, but they seem to prefer munching on colony-living insects instead.
While these hornets aren’t known to actively attack humans, their stings can be fatal, and up to 50 people a year are believed to be killed by them in Japan, though those estimates vary. They pose much more of a threat to honeybees and, by extension, the farmers that depend on these bees for propagating their crops. In the areas of Asia native to murder hornets, local bee populations have developed a horrifying but effective defence against them (it involves cooking the hornet alive with their collective body heat, and it’s metal as fuck).
Sadly, bees in America, where these hornets began inexplicably popping up in 2019, have no such defence. Scientists in Washington have been rushing to locate the hornets’ nests before their “slaughter phase” — aka when they gorge themselves on prey to prepare for the next stage of their life cycle. Hopefully, the destruction of this nest marks a huge step toward eradicating this invasive species before that happens.