Asian giant hornet trapping to wrap up in December before hibernation

Dec 3, 2020, 10:59 AM
hornet nest, Asian giant hornets...
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 Twitter)

It’s a bit of a race against the clock in the Asian giant hornet trapping effort — the invasive species will soon hunker down for its winter hibernation.

A month after eradicating the Blaine-area nest that became the first and only Asian giant hornet nest to be found in the U.S. so far, Washington State Department of Agriculture scientists are still hard at work trapping for Asian giant hornets in Whatcom County. However, they plan to finish just before Christmas, as the hornets will likely have gone into winter hibernation by then.

“They’re still active up near Blaine  … we’re scaling down our staff right now and plan to wrap up by December 23 with trapping in the area,” said Karla Salp, public engagement specialist for the Department of Agriculture.

Because the first-ever Asian giant hornet detection in Washington was in December of last year, scientists think they might still find some of the pests out and about.

Asian giant hornet nest ‘caught in the nick of time,’ say scientists

Three hornets have been collected since the nest eradication, but those were believed to have escaped from that nest.

There are thought to be two other nests — possibly one near Birch Bay and one near downtown Blaine — based on where hornets have been found and how far they usually fly.

“It would be surprising if there weren’t more out there and we got entirely lucky and found the one nest and eradicated it — that would be great,” Salp said. “But the likelihood is that there are some other nests out there that we have not detected yet.”

These nests are not likely to be eradicated in the next three weeks.

“I think the chances of finding another nest are probably low — the only thing we might find, potentially, are new queens that are going off to find their own new spot to start a nest for next year,” Salp said.

While the hornets will be taking it easy over the winter, Department of Agriculture entomologists will be hard at work analyzing specimens, doing research, and planning new trapping techniques. The next round of trapping will start next summer.

Native to East Asia, Asian giant hornets are sometimes colloquially called “murder hornets” because of the way they prey on smaller bees, including honeybees. Their stings are extremely painful to humans, but deadly only in very rare cases. The invasive creatures have been found in several spots around Northwestern Whatcom County, as well as just across the border in Langley, B.C.

The British Columbia government is doing genetic testing of the hornets that have been found there to see if they came from the same source as the “American” hornets. So far, testing has indicated that the hornets in the U.S. may be from South Korea, while the Canadian ones may have originally come from Japan. Salp said it would be a huge coincidence if the hornets had sneaked a ride across the Pacific from two locations in the same year, but it’s looking like that was what happened.

“It definitely seems to be the case that there were two separate introductions for the first time, in the same year, in the Pacific Northwest,” Salp said. “It is very odd, but none of us has any information as to where these actually came from. A container ship is one option, there are a couple other theories out there, but it’s unlikely that we’ll ever know exactly.”

And while the original plan was to have all the Washington Asian giant hornets eradicated this year, overall, the Department of Agriculture remains optimistic for next year because the hornets are still contained to the Birch Bay-Blaine area.

“It’s still really promising that the hornets have only been found in one area … in that little northwest corner of Whatcom County,” Salp said.

In the meantime, if you spot a 2-inch orange hornet, report it here to the Department of Agriculture.

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Asian giant hornet trapping to wrap up in December before hibernation