State tracks live Asian giant hornet, getting closer to finding first nest
Another live Asian giant hornet was captured east of Blaine last week — and unlike the first attempt at the end of September, this time, scientists were able to attach a tracker and follow its movements for some time.
The radio tracking signal was lost before the hornet’s nest could be found, but State Department of Agriculture entomologist Sven Spichiger said they’re still zeroing in on the nest’s location, with the help of neighbors who are also observing the hornets. Some residents were even able to help track the Asian giant hornet on their phones with a special app.
“We are starting to narrow down exactly where the hornet nest is … We’re pretty sure this is going to lead us right where we need to go,” Spichiger said.
The entomologists believe they’ll be able to eradicate the nest soon, which they plan to do using a vacuum device to suck the hornets out of the nest. Any remaining hornets will be killed with carbon dioxide gas.
“We think it’ll go pretty smoothly. We’ve practiced it a few times and we’re ready to go,” Spichiger said. “Obviously we haven’t practiced it with giant hornets trying to sting us, but we have every confidence that the [full-body] suits will protect us.”
But even with that nest gone, the work will not be done. It is believed there is a second nest in Birch Bay, and possibly a third within Blaine city limits.
“We did just get a trap hit downtown Blaine, which is a little too far away from the other areas where we’re working to not be considered another possible nest,” Spichiger said.
He said another Asian giant hornet was caught just across the border from Blaine in British Columbia the same day.
The original goal was to have all of the nests destroyed before the hornets’ fall breeding season, to prevent another generation of hornets being produced. However, the other two nests have not had as much activity that could reveal their whereabouts.
“We will do everything we can to eliminate the nests,” Spichiger said. “Whether we happen to be able to do this before breeding season is of course in question, because we are starting to approach breeding season now.”
During the breeding season, the hornets go into what is known as the “slaughter phase,” where they are especially aggressive toward smaller bees because they need higher-protein meals.
“We want to still locate and kill as many nests as possible … it’s not the point [in] the season we wanted to get to, but that’s where we’re at,” Spichiger said.
There have not yet been reports of giant hornets attacking Whatcom County beekeepers’ bees this year, but this did occur last year around this time. If you are a beekeeper who experiences an attack from Asian giant hornets, call Department of Agriculture entomologists at 360-902-1880.
Asian giant hornets are colloquially called “murder hornets” because of the way they prey on other bees, including honeybees. Their stings are only fatal to humans in very rare cases, such as allergic reactions.
The large, orange-colored hornets are native to East Asia, but scientists from Washington State University have stated that they are well suited to the climate here and could spread down the West Coast within the next two decades if left unchecked.
Right now, however, the hornets have not spread beyond the northern part of Whatcom County.
“That encourages me, because I was afraid we might have to be focusing on the entire western half of the state, because we just didn’t know what was going on,” Spichiger said. “But it looks like we really are concentrated in one area, which does give us a fighting chance.”
If you live in Whatcom County and see an Asian giant hornet, report it right away to the Department of Agriculture.