BLAINE, Wash. — Washington state agriculture workers have trapped their first Asian giant hornet.
The hornet was found July 14 in a bottle trap set north of Seattle near the Canadian border, and state entomologists confirmed its identity Wednesday, according to the Washington State Department of Agriculture.
The Asian giant hornet, the world’s largest at 2 inches, can decimate entire hives of honeybees and deliver a painful sting to humans.
Researchers say while honeybees do not appear to comprise the majority of this hornet’s diet, it’s attack behavior with other social insects is arguably the most remarkable. Japanese entomologists have described two different kinds of attack behavior — a hunting phase and a slaughter phase. In the hunting phase, a lone hornet may kill a honeybee or another prey species like a scarab beetle to bring back to the nest. The slaughter phase is much more aggressive and coordinated.
A widely shared YouTube video appearing to show close relatives of the Asian hornet raiding a hive of honeybees claims 30 of the giants were able to kill more than 30,000 European honeybees in three hours.
Farmers in the northwest depend on those honeybees to pollinate many crops such as apples, blueberries and cherries.
If the hornet establishes a firm toe-hold in the region, it would likely be disastrous for many. Losing hives could seriously hobble beekeepers’ ability to provide efficient pollination on demand and would definitely affect their profits — especially for smaller apiaries and hobbyists.
The invasive insect was first documented in the state late last year and officials have said it’s not known how it arrived in North America. It normally lives in the forests and low mountains of eastern and southeast Asia.
The recently-trapped hornet in Washington is the first found in a trap rather than in the environment as the state’s five previous confirmed sightings were.
“This is encouraging because it means we know that the traps work,” Sven Spichiger, managing entomologist for the department said in a news release. “But it also means we have work to do.”
Researchers say Western Washington — the climate, terrain and its Pacific proximity — is relatively hospitable to the giant insect but the same may not be true of the more arid Palouse.
No sightings have been made in the eastern side of the state, but he said concerned beekeepers can place a trap at the front of their hives that will capture the giants but allow the comparatively tiny honeybee to pass through.
The state now plans to search for nests using infrared cameras and place additional traps that try to capture hornets alive. If they catch live hornets, the agriculture department will try to tag and track them back to their colony so the colony can be eradicated.
Officials hope to destroy any nests by mid-September, before the colony would begin creating new reproducing queens.