Scientists in US and Canada Set to Battle Homicide Hornets | Science Information

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BY NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS, Associated Press

SPOKANE, Washington (AP) – Scientists in the US and Canada open new fronts in the war against so-called murder hornets as the giant insects begin to build nests in the spring.

The scientists said Wednesday that the battle to prevent the apex predators from gaining a foothold in North America is being fought primarily in Whatcom County, Washington, and nearby Fraser Valley in British Columbia, where the hornets have been in recent years were sighted.

“This is not a species that we want to tolerate here in the US,” said Sven-Erik Spichiger from the Washington State Department of Agriculture, who wiped out a nest of Asian giant hornets last year. “The Asian giant hornet shouldn’t be here.”

“We may not get all of them, but we will get as many as possible,” he said of the extermination efforts this year.

Paul van Westendorp, from British Columbia’s Department of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, said the hornets pose a threat to human life, valuable bee populations used to pollinate plants and other insects.

“It is an absolutely serious threat to our health and well-being,” he said. “Those are intimidating insects.”

A major front will be setting thousands of traps this spring to catch queens trying to build nests, officials said. Both government agencies and individuals will set traps, they said.

Another effort is underway to pinpoint exactly where these hornets came from in Asia, to try to figure out how to get across the Pacific, scientists said. The theory is that they cross on cargo ships, Spichiger said.

While hundreds of the hornets were killed when the Whatcom County’s nest was destroyed last October, only a handful of hornets were sighted in British Columbia last year, van Westendorp said.

Scientists have studied the genetics of captured hornets and compared them to those in South Korea, Japan and China, Spichiger said.

Initial results suggest that the hornets found in the US have been linked to hornets in South Korea, while those in British Columbia have been linked to hornets found in Japan, Spichiger said.

It’s not clear, however, that the hornets found in North America actually immigrated directly from those countries, said Anne LeBrun, a scientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The agency is working to determine the origin of the murder hornets found here.

Hornet queens usually emerge from winter quarters in spring and build nests for hornets from obstetricians. The hornets start attacking and destroying useful honeybees later in the year, and eat the bees as protein as they raise more hornets, Soichiger said.

Whatcom County is located approximately 55 miles south of Vancouver, British Columbia.

The Washington state agency will continue to use orange juice and rice cooking wine in traps this year, while citizens can use either orange juice or brown sugar-based bait. Washington residents of Whatcom, Skagit, San Juan, Island, Jefferson, and Clallam counties were urged to set their own traps starting July.

Half of the confirmed reports on the species in the state last year and all reports on the hornets in British Columbia were from members of the public.

The first confirmed discovery of a giant Asian hornet in Washington was in December 2019, and the first hornet was caught last July. Several others were subsequently caught, all in Whatcom County, in the northwestern part of the state.

Asian giant hornets, an invasive pest that is not native to the United States, are the world’s largest hornet and a predator of honeybees and other insects. A small group of Asian giant hornets can kill an entire beehive in a matter of hours. The honeybees pollinate much of the crops in Washington’s multi-billion dollar agriculture.

Asian giant hornets can sting people painfully and spit venom. Despite their nickname and fearful hype, the world’s largest hornets kill a few dozen people a year at most in Asian countries, and experts say this is likely far fewer. Now, hornets, wasps, and bees, which are normally found in the United States, kill an average of 62 people a year, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The real threat from Asian giant hornets – which are 5 inches long – is their devastating attacks on honeybees, which are already besieged by problems like mites, disease, pesticides and food loss.

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