BIRCH BAY — Washington has trapped its first Asian giant hornet, the first step toward what state officials hope will be the eradication of the invasive insects from the country.
The hornet was found July 14 in a bottle trap set near Birch Bay in Whatcom County, and state entomologists confirmed its identity Wednesday, according to a statement on the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA)’s website.
The Asian giant hornet is the world’s largest hornet. It’s known to some researchers as the “murder hornet” — though Washington state officials don’t use that moniker — because it can attack and wipe out a honey bee colony in a few hours and its stings are excruciating to humans.
Its presence in United States was first documented last fall, in Whatcom County. Scientists have since embarked on a full-scale hunt for the hornets, worried that the invaders could decimate bee populations in the United States and establish such a deep presence that all hope for eradication could be lost.
“This is our window to keep it from establishing,” Chris Looney, a WSDA entomologist, told The New York Times this spring. “If we can’t do it in the next couple of years, it probably can’t be done.”
This was the first hornet to be found in a trap instead of out in the wild like the state’s five previous confirmed sightings.
That’s good news, said Sven Spichiger, managing entomologist for the department, because it means the traps work.
However, it also means a new colony has been formed since the first confirmed sightings of the hornet in the United States in December, so the department has work to do, Spichiger said at a news conference Friday.
He said WSDA will look for nests using infrared cameras and try to catch live specimens, tag them and track them back to their colony.
Once a colony is found, the area will be cordoned off and the nest will be destroyed at night, he said.
The hope is to have that done before mid-September, when the hornets will hatch new queens and drones, Spichiger said.
“Destroying the nest before new queens emerge and mate will prevent the spread of this invasive pest,” according to WSDA’s statement.