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Asian giant hornet nest caught ‘in the nick of time,’ says WA Dept of Agriculture

An Asian giant hornet peeks out of one of the cells in the nest found in a tree near Blaine. (Washington State Department of Agriculture Twitter)

Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) scientists say they got to the Asian giant hornet nest found up a tree on private property east of Blaine just in time to prevent further spread of the invasive creatures.

After the hornets were vacuumed out of the nest and the tree was cut down in late October, scientists have been investigating what was inside.

At about 14 inches long and between 8-9 inches wide, the Asian giant hornet nest contained about 500 hornets in different stages of life, including around 200 queens.

State entomologist Sven Spichiger explained that this could have had especially troubling consequences if the hornets’ nest had not been found, as queens mate and then go off to start new nests.

Entomologists find first US Asian giant hornet nest near Blaine

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

He pointed out that a few hornets were spotted last year, including queens.

“It’s clear that a few of them did manage to establish nests here in 2020 … potentially, each of those queens could [have been] a new nest next year,” Spichiger said, adding, “It really seems like we got there just in the nick of time.”

Overall, this nest is on the small side for Asian giant hornet nests as some contain thousands of hornets.

The Washington State Department of Agriculture will still keep trapping for hornets through Thanksgiving, and for the next three years. It is believed there are still at least two more nests in Whatcom County — in Birch Bay and Blaine — and possibly a third in Custer.

Spichiger said there is a “fair chance” of finding another nest this month, “as long as people keep reporting [sightings].”

The WSDA team is working with its British Columbian neighbors across the border, where hornets have also been found. Paul van Westerndorp, a provincial apiculturist at the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, said the hornet sightings all have been right around the U.S./Canada border, with the “epicenter” of the outbreak appearing to be in Northwestern Washington.

Together through the international partnership, the entomologists plan to fully eradicate Asian giant hornets from the Pacific Northwest.

“I’m still cautiously optimistic — if I had told you we had 17 different hits in 17 counties, I’d say the genie was out of the bottle,” Spichiger said. “But right now, it’s just us and British Columbia, and it’s a fairly contained event.”

Asian giant hornets are native to East Asia; Spichiger said it’s unknown how they got to the West Coast, but it was likely through international shipping. A study from Washington State University found that if they’re not wiped out, the hornets could eventually spread down the West Coast, and throughout the rest of the world via travel.

Asian giant hornets are commonly referred to as “murder hornets,” but their stings are only deadly to humans in very rare cases, such as allergic reactions. They earn their nickname by the way they attack smaller bees, especially during the autumn “slaughter phase.”

If you live in Whatcom County and see an Asian giant hornet, report it right away to the WSDA. If you are a beekeeper who experiences an attack from Asian giant hornets, call Department of Agriculture entomologists at 360-902-1880.

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