Murder Hornet Nest, the first in the US, is being removed in Washington state
Like detectives pouncing at a refugee hideout deep in the forest, Washington state officials announced on Saturday that they had removed the first murder hornet’s nest in the United States, hidden in a tree hollow near the Canadian border.
Officials removed the nest in Blaine, Washington before the voracious Asian giant hornets could reproduce and begin killing bees, which are vital to the survival of raspberries, blueberries and other crops in the area.
The discovery of the nest – which may have had 100 to 200 hornets – came after weeks of hunting and trapping the insects, known to use their powerful mandibles to attack and destroy honey beehives in a matter of hours.
The colony was located in a region of forests and farmland on Thursday after officials installed radio trackers on three captured hornets. One of them led them to the nest about six feet high in a tree on private property near an area that had been cleared for a house.
Asian giant hornets usually nest in the ground, but officials said they saw dozens of the mighty hornets buzzing in and out of the trough.
At a press conference on Friday, Sven Spichiger, an entomologist with the Washington State Department of Agriculture, recalled tripping over the nest while following a radio signal from a hornet until it got very strong.
“And at that point,” said Mr. Spichiger, “I actually heard a hornet buzzing over my head, so we assumed she had left the location. But then we heard another hum above my head and I took a step back to find that we were actually right under the nest. We actually traced them back to where they came from. And that’s why we were pretty happy about it. “
Asian giant hornets, which some researchers call murder hornets, burrowed their way into the American psyche last year after they were first discovered in the United States in Washington state, prompting officials to sound a pest alert warning that the Hornets pose a threat to honey bees.
At up to two inches in length, Asian giant hornets are the largest hornets in the world, and their powerful sting can release excruciatingly painful venom. In Japan, the hornets kill up to 50 people a year.
In Washington state officials had tried to find a nest quickly as the hornets are about to enter their “slaughter phase”. They then forcefully attack beehives, remove and decapitate each bee inside, and then harvest the brood and pupae for food.
Using a network of traps, government entomologists have meticulously followed hornet sightings since the first one was caught that year.
Officials felt they were approaching their prey last month when a pastor who lives near Blaine, about 50 kilometers south of Vancouver, spotted giant Asian hornets landing on a wasp nest in his shop.
Chris Looney, a state entomologist who surveyed the property, managed to catch one of the hornets in a net – the first to be caught alive in the United States, the department said.
But an attempt to attach a tracking device to one of the hornets failed when a glue dot on a hornet didn’t dry quickly enough, Mr Spichiger said, and the tracking device slipped when officers tried to release the insect.
This time, he said, the radiotrackers were glued with glue and floss.
To eradicate the nest, officials planned to fill the tree cavity with foam and then wrap it in plastic wrap, Spichiger said. Officials would then suck the hornets into a canister and save some of them for research, he said. Removal details were not available on Saturday.
Mr Spichiger said members of the elimination team would wear thick white suits with rubber gloves and boots, and face shields that could protect them from the hornet’s poison, which can cause debilitating eye injuries.
“They will sting the suits and hopefully not go all the way through,” he said. “We’ll find out in the morning whether they really work.”
Christina Morales contributed to the coverage.