The world’s largest hornet, a 2-inch killer dubbed the “Murder Hornet” with an appetite for honey bees, has been found in Washington state, where entomologists were making plans to wipe it out.
The giant Asian insect, with a sting that could be fatal to some people, is just now starting to emerge from winter hibernation.
“They’re like something out of a monster cartoon with this huge yellow-orange face,” said Susan Cobey, a bee breeder at Washington State University.
“It’s a shockingly large hornet,” said Todd Murray, a WSU Extension entomologist, and invasive species specialist. “It’s a health hazard, and more importantly, a significant predator of honey bees.”
The hornet was sighted for the first time in the U.S. last December, when the state Department of Agriculture verified two reports near Blaine, Washington, close to the Canadian border. It also received two probable, but unconfirmed reports from sites in Custer, Washington, south of Blaine.
The hornet can sting through most beekeeper suits, deliver nearly seven times the amount of venom as a honey bee, and sting multiple times, the department said, adding that it ordered special reinforced suits from China.
The university said it is not known how or where the hornets arrived in North America. It normally lives in the forests and low mountains of eastern and southeast Asia and feeds on large insects, including wasps and bees. It was dubbed the “Murder Hornet” in Japan, where it is known to kill people.
The hornet’s life cycle begins in April, when queens emerge from hibernation, feed on plant sap and fruit, and look for underground dens to build their nests. Hornets are most destructive in the late summer and early fall. Like a marauding army, they attack honey bee hives, killing adult bees and devouring larvae and pupae, WSU said.
Their stings are big and painful, with a potent neurotoxin. Multiple stings can kill humans, even if they are not allergic, the university said.
Farmers depend on honey bees to pollinate many important northwest crops such as apples, blueberries, and cherries. With the threat from giant hornets, “beekeepers may be reluctant to bring their hives here,” said Island County Extension scientist Tim Lawrence.
An invasive species can dramatically change growing conditions, Murray said, adding that now is the time to deal with the predators.
“We need to teach people how to recognize and identify this hornet while populations are small so that we can eradicate it while we still have a chance,″ Murray said.
The state Department of Agriculture will begin trapping queens this spring, with a focus on Whatcom, Skagit, San Juan, and Island counties.
Hunting the hornets is no job for ordinary people.
“Don’t try to take them out yourself if you see them,” Looney said. “If you get into them, run away, then call us!″
Mexico’s National Health Service, Food Safety, and Food Quality (SENASICA) that belongs to the Agriculture and Rural Development Ministry (SADER), has implemented the search for the giant Asian hornet in its epidemiological surveillance programs after the U.S. alert on the invasive species.
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In a statement, Senasica said that its objective is to protect nearly 43,500 bee producers that have over 2,172,000 beehives for honey production and the pollination of crops in the five producing regions in the country.
SENASICA said that although the plague is located in the northern border of the U.S. over 2,500 km away from Mexico, it is important to begin searching for the invasive species in case it reaches the country so as to act on time.
In this vein, SENASICA said technicians working for the Agriculture Ministry must report any sighting of the giant hornets in the national territory through the AVISE app, to the e-mail [email protected] or to the phone number 800 7512100.
Another of the actions implemented by SENASICA is for experts to inform producers about the risk of stings to people and animals, that the giant hornet’s venom is more powerful than any species in the American continent, and that, due to its size, common protection suits are not enough to prevent its sting.
Mexico’s Agriculture Ministry urged producers and the population in general to report any sighting of the giant hornets to the corresponding technical personnel and not to try to wipe them out or scare them by themselves since it is unusual for these hornets to disturb people but will certainly sting if they feel threatened.
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