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News >  Agriculture

Asian giant hornets’ nest found in Whatcom County

UPDATED: Fri., Oct. 23, 2020

An entomologist uses dental floss to tie a radio tracking device onto an Asian giant hornet captured earlier this month near Blaine, Washington.  (Courtesy of the Washington state Department of Agriculture)
An entomologist uses dental floss to tie a radio tracking device onto an Asian giant hornet captured earlier this month near Blaine, Washington. (Courtesy of the Washington state Department of Agriculture)

After eluding detection for several weeks, a nest of Asian giant hornets was discovered in Whatcom County after state officials tracked a hornet with a radio tag back to its home.

Built inside a hollow tree on private property near the edge of a forest, its heat signature suggests the nest is about the size of a basketball and home to an estimated 100 to 200 hornets, said Sven-Erik Spichiger, managing entomologist for the Washington Department of Agriculture.

“A very small percentage are known to nest in hollow tree cavities,” Spichiger told a news conference Friday. “We were totally anticipating it to be a ground nest.”

As Asian giant hornet nests go, it’s not huge. Some can be as much as 3 feet across, with as many as 800 hornets in them.

Early Saturday morning, state entomologists plan an assault on the hive and its occupants of voracious honey bee predators. They will erect scaffolding to get to the opening in the tree, about 8 feet off the ground, seal the hole with foam then create a small opening in the foam.

They will use the Asian giant hornets’ aggressive nature against them, vacuuming them up as they come out. Some of the bugs will be captured alive, put in a cooler with dry ice and sent to research facilities for study.

The entomologists will be wearing special protective clothing that Spichiger said looks like a white space suit: hoods with fans in them, thick rubber gloves and boots, an outer shell made of foam thick enough to keep from being stung by the hornet’s stingers (which can be about 6 millimeters long), and a face shield to protect against being sprayed with hornet venom that can cause eye damage.

Yes, the so-called “murder hornets” also carry dangerous venom. But Spichiger said the average person need not worry about Asian giant hornets coming out of the sky and attacking them with venom. That’s usually only a concern for people who try to remove a nest.

Plus, there’s no sign of Asian giant hornets being anywhere in the United States except very small areas of Washington’s Whatcom County, near the Canadian border. State entomologists are “cautiously optimistic” that’s the only place they are, he said.

Four of the hornets were caught alive in traps on private property earlier this week and were fitted with tracking devices, attached with glue and dental floss. A couple of the hornets weren’t very cooperative when released, flying around then landing in trees near the traps and staying put. One hornet chewed through the dental floss.

But one took off and was eventually tracked to the tree.

The hornets present a very serious threat to honey bees, which are a key pollinator for Washington crops. A few Asian giant hornets can lay waste to a honey bee hive, decapitating all the bees and feasting on their pupae, which earned them the nickname of “murder hornets.” A nest of hornets can create as many as 300 queens for next year, so the state is trying to locate and eradicate any nest it can.

Some hornets have been trapped or sighted near Birch Bay and in Blaine, but so far this is the first nest to be found.

“There’s definitely a good chance there’s more than this one,” Spichiger said.

Some honey bee hives were attacked last year in the late fall, he added, but so far none this year. State agriculture officials expect to report on the nest eradication, complete with photos and video, on Monday.

They’ll also cut the tree down after vacuuming the nest to collect any larva.

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