The First ‘Murder Hornet’ Nest of the Year Spotted In Washington

Asian giant hornets, also known as “murder hornets,” have put people in the Pacific northwest on high alert over the last few years. That concern has reignited with the first sighting of an Asian giant hornet nest near Blaine, Washington.

As the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) maintains, the nest was found around the same area where a live “murder hornet” was reported in August 2021.

In mid-August, officers from the WSDA captured, tagged and released three hornets. A statement from the department reports that one hornet slipped out of its tracking device, another flew out of range, but the third led the officers to the nest.

A dorsal view of a dead displayed, lighter colored variant Giant Asian hornet.
A dorsal view of a dead displayed, lighter colored variant Giant Asian hornet.

“Teamwork has been the key to success with this effort,” said WSDA managing entomologist Sven Spichiger. “Whether it is the public reporting sightings and building traps or state and federal agencies working together, this is really a model for success in invasive species management.”

State entomologists are now developing a plan to remove the nest, but caution Washington residents to report any suspected Asian giant hornet sightings at agr.wa.gov/hornets.

Asian giant hornets can be deadly to people with allergies to bee and hornet venom.
Asian giant hornets can be deadly to people with allergies to bee and hornet venom.

According to the USDA, Asian giant hornets do not attack people unless they feel threatened. The stinger on an Asian giant hornet is longer than that of typical bees or wasps found in the United States, but their venom is more toxic. People with an allergy to bee or wasp stings should take particular caution and calmly leave the area if they believe they have seen an Asian giant hornet.

According to the USDA, When attacking a honey bee colony, the hornet excretes a pheromone marker on the hive to signal to others that the colony is its target. Up to fifty hornets attack the colony at once and can eliminate an entire honey bee colony in less than two hours.

The hornets harvest bee brood to feed to their young and will defend the bee hive as if it were their own nest.

Asian giant hornets can surround and kill a hive of bees in less than an hour.
Asian giant hornets can surround and kill a hive of bees in less than an hour.

In their native Asia, when a hornet enters a honeybee nest, the bees gather around the wasp and trap it, the Natural History Museum reports. They vibrate their flight muscles, raising the temperature and the carbon dioxide level in the ball. The wasp is effectively suffocated and cooked, while the hearty bees can easily survive the high temperatures. 

Not all species of honeybees are capable of fending off the murder hornets, however. European honeybees don’t make bee balls. They will defend their nest by stinging an attacking hornet, but this appears to have no effect.

Asian giant hornets closely resemble other hornets and pollinators.
Asian giant hornets closely resemble other hornets and pollinators.

There are a number of insects that look similar to the Asian giant hornet, including:

  1. Western cicada killer (Sphecius grandis)
  2. Eastern cicada killer (Sphecius speciosus)
  3. Various species of yellowjackets (Vespula spp.)
  4. Great golden digger wasp (Sphex ichneumoneus)
  5. European hornet (Vespa crabro)
  6. Elm sawfly (Cimbex Americana)
  7. Various species of paper wasp (Polistes spp.)
  8. Bald-faced hornet (Dolichovespula maculata)
  9. Pigeon tremex (Tremex Columba)
  10. Yellow bumblebee (Bombus fervidus)
  11. European honey bee (Apis mellifera)

The Asian giant hornet’s similarity to honeybees has led some to destroy the nests of native pollinators by mistake, ironically making it easier for the hornets to spread while harming local ecosystems.

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