Scientists have examined a dead Asian giant hornet in northern Washington state, the first so-called murder hornet found in the country this year, federal and state investigators said on Wednesday.
Entomologists from Seattle and US Agriculture departments said it’s the first confirmed report this year.
In 2019 and 2020 findings of the hornets along the US-Canadian border gained widespread attention. How they got to North America from Asia remains unclear.
The 5cm-long invasive insects are native to Asia and pose a threat to honeybees and native American hornet species as they feed primarily on larger insects and honey from honeybee colonies.
Their 6mm long stingers inject large amounts of extremely potent venom. While not particularly aggressive toward humans, their sting is extremely painful and repeated stings can kill.
The world’s largest hornet is much more of a threat to honeybees that are relied on not so much for their honey as their vital role in pollinating crops.
Asian hornets attack hives, destroying them in hours and decapitating the bees in what scientists call their “slaughter phase”.
In the latest sighting, a resident found the dead hornet and reported it on June 4 to the state Department of Agriculture. Entomologists found it to be male and very dried out. As new males usually don’t emerge until at least July, they concluded it was an old hornet from a previous season.
“The find is perplexing because it is too early for a male to emerge,” said Dr Osama El-Lissy, deputy administrator for the US Department of Agriculture’s quarantine programme. He said the agency would work with state officials “to survey the area to verify whether a population exists”.
Entomologists confirmed it was an Asian giant hornet. DNA testing indicated the specimen appeared to be unrelated to the previous specimens found on the border.
“This new report continues to underscore how important public reporting is for all suspected invasive species, but especially the Asian giant hornet,” said Sven Spichiger, an entomologist with the state Agriculture Department who is leading the fight to eradicate Asian hornets, which the USDA has placed on the list of quarantine pests.
The Asian giant hornet is the world’s largest hornet. It lives mostly in underground tunnels and can be found all over tropical Southeast Asia.