- This is like Starship Troopers, except the bugs aren’t quite that big.
The United States is being invaded by a hostile and lethal force. No, it’s not a foreign military power but something much, much worse.
While the invaders don’t employ soldiers or operate under a general, they do have semblance of organization. They work according to a strictly hierarchical caste system, all held together under the iron will of a despotic queen.
We’re talking about Asian Giant Hornets. If you don’t recognize that name, you might have heard of their other alias – the Murder Hornets.
This huge flying menace normally occupies its native areas west across the Pacific. The giant hornets are found in East, South, and Southeast Asia, in addition to temperate parts of the Russian Far East.
But now, they have established the first successful colony in mainland U.S. Or at least, the first that we know of. On October 22, officials from the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) found the first ever giant hornet nest in North America.
After its discovery, WSDA promptly destroyed the nest two days later. And just like that, the invasion is over.
Or is it?
Insect War Criminals
You might be asking what a murder hornet actually is, though. Just in case your knowledge of giant, deadly insects is lacking, let’s have a little entomology lesson.
The Asian giant hornet – or Vespa mandarinia if you want to get fancy – is the world’s largest species of hornet. It’s roughly two inches in length – about the size of your thumb.
It gets its murderous nickname from two things. First, its venom is incredibly potent.
It’s so strong that should you get stung by multiple insects at once, you can most likely wave goodbye to this mortal coil. In their native Japan, the hornets kill around 30-50 people every year.
The second reason for the title of “murder hornet” is that, well… It’s just what these things are.
The giant hornets are utterly genocidal and will commit atrocities on a mass scale. And their favorite victim is the beloved honeybee.
If a hornet worker finds a honeybee hive, it will spray it with an attractive pheromone. Once the reinforcements arrive from the hornet nest, they enter what the WSDA calls the “slaughter phase”.
The hornets descend upon the honeybee hive and kill everything that moves. Their favorite mode of mass murder is good old-fashioned decapitation.
Once every single adult bee lies dead and mangled, the hornets turn their attention to the bee larvae. They aren’t killed immediately, though. Instead, the hornets fly them off to their own nest to feed to their brood.
The hornets will also attack other insects, but in these cases they usually don’t decimate the entire population. Suppose they just have a bee in their bonnet about honeybees.
“If it becomes established [in the U.S.], this hornet will have negative impacts on the environment, economy, and public health,” WSDA says.
Going to Battle
The first sighting of the hornets in North America came in late 2019, in British Columbia, Canada. A couple months later, in December, they were found in Washington.
As said, in late October, WSDA staff discovered the nightmare scenario of an established nest in Blaine, WA. They were able to locate the nest after attaching radio trackers to three hornets that were caught in traps.
“The nest is inside the cavity of a tree located on private property near an area cleared for a residential home,” the WSDA said. “Dozens of the hornets were seen entering and exiting the tree.”
Due to the nature of the threat, there was no time to waste in dealing with it. Two days later, on October 24, a WSDA crew came in to give the hornets a taste of their hive-wrecking medicine.
Clad in protective suits, the experts vacuumed 85 hornets out of the nest. They also trapped 13 additional living insects with nests.
“When the hornets stopped coming out of the nest, the team pumped carbon dioxide into the tree to kill or anaesthetize any remaining hornets,” the WSDA describes the operation.
“They then sealed the tree with spray foam, wrapped it again with cellophane, and finally placed traps nearby to catch any potential survivors or hornets who may have been away during the operation.”
After some three hours, the staff-in-command declared an operation a success.
The War Rages On
But that wasn’t the end of it. Of course it wasn’t, you know how these things go.
“The eradication went very smoothly, even though our original plan had to be adapted due to the fact that the nest was in a tree, rather than the ground,” says the managing entomologist Sven Spichiger.
“While this is certainly a morale boost, this is only the start of our work to hopefully prevent the Asian giant hornet from gaining a foothold in the Pacific Northwest. We suspect there may be more nests in Whatcom County.”
One of the biggest questions WSDA entomologists had was whether this particular nest had started producing new queens. If it had, that would mean that there is a very real possibility of the hornets having spread even further.
WSDA staff went to remove the whole infested tree on October 28. During the process, they found an unwelcome answer to that question.
In the remains of the nest, they discovered two hornet queens. Both were alive.
“WSDA will continue setting traps through at least November in hopes of catching any more Asian giant hornets still in Whatcom County and potentially locating any other active nests,” the agency says.
We have won the first battle against the hornet menace. But the war is far from over.