Detection of six sightings of Asian giant hornets known as murder hornets in Washington state has sparked an urgent search for a possible nest.
State agricultural officials are working to find and destroy a nest before the hornets enter their “slaughter phase” when they kill honeybees, which are vital to the pollination of some of the state’s staples such as raspberries and blueberries.
The attacks by murder hornets on beehives tend to increase around this time of year, said Sven-Erik Spichiger, entomologist for the department, during a virtual press conference on Friday.
Many farmers in northwestern states rely on honeybees to pollinate their crops.
The first of the most recent sightings came almost two weeks ago when a private landowner captured two murder hornets in the town of Blaine, Whatcom County, near the Canadian border.
When the Ministry of Agriculture responded to the sighting on September 30, a scientist caught a hornet alive, a first for the agency, spokeswoman Karla Salp said at the press conference.
Other Blaine residents reported several other sightings that same week.
The number of murder hornets found indicates that a nest has been built in the area, Spichiger said. “We hope to find and exterminate the nest in a few weeks.”
In order to successfully eradicate the nests, murder hornets must be caught alive.
Farmers tried to stick a tracker on the one murder hornet they caught alive in hopes of following it to their nest, Spichiger said. But the glue didn’t dry fast enough and the tracker fell off. Scientists hope to catch another live hornet soon and try again.
In addition to decimating entire beehives, the Asian giant hornets can deliver excruciatingly painful stings to humans. There is also evidence that the giant hornets also attack native wasps and hornets, Spichiger said.
The invasive insect, normally found in China, Japan, Thailand, South Korea, Vietnam and other Asian countries, was first documented in Washington state late last year. It is unclear how it was received.
At least 14 hornets were found in the state last year, according to the Department of Agriculture’s Asian giant hornet dashboard.
Washington and the Canadian province of British Columbia are the only places the hornets have been found in North America.
There have been reports from Asia of murder hornets stinging people so often that they died.
Hornets, wasps, and bees, which are commonly found in the United States, kill an average of 62 people a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Associated Press contributed.