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Murder hornet
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How Washington is gearing up to fight the infamous ‘murder hornet’

An Asian giant hornet from Japan is held on a pin by an entomologist with the Washington state Dept. of Agriculture. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Last week, New York Times reporter Mike Baker published a story on the presence of the so-called “murder hornets” in Washington. As for just how concerned we should be in the Pacific Northwest, Baker weighed in on KIRO Nights.

Rantz: Washington’s Asian ‘murder hornets’ will probably kill us all

“It’s definitely a threat in different ways,” Baker described. “It’s a really large hornet — it can get up to two inches long and it’s got a stinger that’s really potent. It kills a few dozen people in Japan each year, so in some ways, there is a public health threat.”

Known more officially as the Asian giant hornet, its sting is not something the average person — or even a trained professional — wants to experience.

Baker recounted the experience of a beekeeper in Nanaimo, British Columbia, who was stung by a hive of these hornets, despite wearing a full bee suit, multiple layers of clothing, and Kevlar coverings around his ankles and wrists.

“As he’s getting ready to douse (the hive) with carbon dioxide, he starts feeling the first jabs, and he describes this sensation as being like red hot thumbtacks writhing through his skin,” he detailed.

The next morning, he awoke with aches “like he was sick,” for stings that were among “the most painful he had experienced” throughout his career in beekeeping.

There’s also a larger threat that extends beyond humans. The hornets frequently decimate beehives, and have been known to “go through and just decapitate all the bees in a nest,” Baker said.

“Perhaps the biggest victim is honey bees,” Baker noted. “The hornet really aggressively targets those types of insects — it can mark their hive and then come in as a group … and wipe out thousands of bees in just a few hours.”

“A hornet might fly by, hover around, grab a bee, bite its head off, chew up the rest of the body … and then fly it back to their nest and feed it to the larvae,” Washington State Department of Agriculture entomologist Chris Looney told KTTH’s Jason Rantz Show.

As queens begin to potentially establish nests for the summer, local wildlife officials are hoping to limit the spread of this hornet now before it escalates. Recently, there have been two confirmed sightings of the hornet in the same area of Blaine, Washington.

“That got the wheels of government churning very quickly,” Looney said.

To that end, numerous traps have been set up throughout the region targeting queens, with the goal to “eradicate it” entirely.

Once a hornet is snared in a trap, a string, streamer, or even a remote RFID tag is attached to it, allowing authorities to follow it back to its source at the hive.

“The thing is so big that it could just fly with this string attached — it’s just pretty remarkable,” Baker said.

The use of thermal cameras on forest floors to identify possible hives — which operate around 86 degrees Fahrenheit — has also been proposed.

If this effort proves unsuccessful and the hornet establishes a presence in the next two years, it will prove difficult to keep it out of Washington in the distant future.

“If we can’t do it in the next couple of years, it probably can’t be done,” Looney warned.

Listen to KIRO Nights weeknights from 7 – 10 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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