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Agriculture officials closer to eradicating Asian giant hornet

Posted at 3:16 PM, Aug 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-16 07:26:46-04

The Asian giant hornet first made waves this spring when it appeared in the United States. Discovered in Washington State, some dubbed it the murder hornet, but since then, entomologists have been feverishly trying to eradicate it.

"Quite a bit has happened. First, we had an initial planning with our AFS counterparts and also our counterparts in Canada who are having detections of their own. We formulated one or two different plans and put one or two of them into action," says Sven-Erik Spichiger, the Managing Entomologist at the Washington State Department of Agriculture.

The Asian giant hornet is the world's largest hornet. It's more than two inches long, and queens can be even bigger. They feed on honey bees, attacking and killing tens of thousands of them at a time.

Last November, beekeeper Ted McFall was blown away when he discovered one of his strongest hives had been attacked.

"Every time I go and check my hives, I kind of have a bad feeling when I start thinking about the Asian giant hornets that are somewhat establishing nests in the woods around me because I think to myself, 'Which one of these colonies is going to get it? Next time I come out here, am I going to show up and there's going to be bee heads everywhere and just bee carnage everywhere?' It's a very unsettling feeling," says McFall.

The Asian giant hornet has been spotted and caught near McFall's property. Spichiger says the Washington State Department of Agriculture and the surrounding community have been hard at work setting traps.

"We have an excellent public survey going on with over 1,000 traps established by just members of the general public. This is very heartwarming to me because it means everyone is taking it very seriously and going above and beyond to help us look for new detections of this invasive pest," says Spichiger.

Spichiger says so far, one has been discovered just over the Canadian border and three in Whatcom County in Washington State. Two of those discovered were queens, which is crucial since the Asian giant hornet hive can't survive without its queen. There have also been two cases where people were likely stung by an Asian giant hornet.

"She described being stung as having hot tacks driven into her flesh... What she described seeing in the yard earlier that day sounded like an Asian giant hornet. Again, it's an unconfirmed report, but we believe it happened," says Spichiger.

"Beekeepers have all types of bee equipment and protection against bees but this is totally useless against the Asian giant hornet. The Asian giant hornet can poke his stinger right through here. Even if I wore two of them," says McFall.

As for whether Washington State agriculture officials feel they're closer to eradicating the Asian giant hornet, Spichiger says: "Eradication is going to be a long process. We will only know for sure if we’ve been successful if we have three years of all negative surveys and nobody turns any in. So from a realistic sense, no, I’m three years away."

Still, the capture of the Asian giant hornets, including the two queens, is progress.

McFall has 16 traps set up within a mile of his hives. He's on high alert, hoping none of his honey bees get attacked again.

"This is a [container] with orange juice and rice wine. They'll smell it and go through the hole. That hole is a little bit narrower than 3/4 inch and then they'll go in and not find their way out. They'll try and fly out and not be able to get out," says McFall.

The traps are the same used by entomologists at the Washington State Department of Agriculture. Entomologists will be setting another 40 live traps near the most recent sighting. They're hoping to catch a live Asian giant hornet and tag it so they can track it to their nest.