First ‘murder hornet’ nest included 200 queens capable of spawning own nests

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Researchers from Washington state say more than 500 Asian giant hornet specimens in various stages of development were collected from the first known nest of the invasive species found in the US, including 200 queens capable of starting their own colonies.

The first nest of so-called murder hornets was found in a tree in Blaine, Wash., last month by Washington State Department of Agriculture entomologists who destroyed the nest.

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Inside the nest, researchers found 76 fully developed virgin queens, 190 larvae and 108 pupae, which were all nearly queens, and 112 worker hornets.

“As far as we can tell, we got there just in time,” Sven Spichiger, an entomologist with the agency, told reporters during a news briefing Tuesday.

“We know from the literature that a small percentage of these will go on to form colonies next year, should they have been given the chance to escape,” Spichiger said.

Spichiger said there’s no way to estimate how many queens inhabited the nest in total or if any escaped, but researchers suspect there are more hives nearby.

Scientists began searching for Asian giant hornet nests after the first specimen was caught earlier this year. The first confirmation of the insects in Washington state occurred in December 2019 and the first was trapped in July. Several more were later caught in Whatcom County, Wash.

Entomologists successfully located the first nest last month after trapping several live hornets and attaching tracking devices to the insects.

It’s unclear how the hornets made it to the region, but scientists say they will continue to search for nests and eradicate them in an effort to wipe out the insect species that poses a great threat to critical honey bee populations.

The insect made headlines earlier this year when it was reported they arrived in North America and were shown to viciously rip the heads off honey bees that pollinated many of the crops in the state in large numbers.

The hornet is the largest in the world at two-inches long and is typically found in China, Japan, Thailand and other Asian countries.

Despite their feared nickname, the hornets kill at most a few dozen people per year, while regular hornets, wasps and bees kill more than 60 people per year in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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