As if the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change weren't creating enough of an apocalyptic scene for humanity, last year's horror movie-worthy "murder hornets" are back.
In what was the first live Asian giant hornet sighting of 2021, a resident reported a hornet attacking a paper wasp nest in the town of Blaine, according to a news release by the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA).
After careful examination, the state agriculture department confirmed the report. "This hornet is exhibiting the same behavior we saw last year — attacking paper wasp nests," Sven Spichiger, WSDA managing entomologist, said in the statement. "If you have paper wasp nests on your property and live in the area, keep an eye on them and report any Asian giant hornets you see. Note the direction they fly off to as well."
Surprisingly, this year's first hornet was seen just 2 miles (3.2 km) from the first-ever U.S. sighting of this species in December 2019 near Blaine, Washington, according to the WSDA.
Since these hornets don't have any natural predators in North America, the insects become a threat to the existing wildlife. Last year, the WSDA was able to successfully vacuum out the first nest in the U.S. The team is now planning to set traps in the area to catch and tag a live murder hornet. After tagging it, the team hopes that the hornet will lead them to the new nest.
What we know about the "murder hornets"
Murder hornets, or scientifically, Asian giant hornets, are considered an invasive pest since they're not native to the U.S. but to East Asia, South Asia, and Mainland Southeast Asia. They're known for being the largest hornet species and usually prey on honey bees and other insects. As their nickname suggests, they're shrewd killers. According to the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA), a small group of Asian giant hornets can kill an entire honey bee hive in a matter of hours.
Asian honey bees have natural defense mechanisms against the hornet. One study even shows that they have the ability to kill hornets by "thermo-balling" them, meaning they wait for a hornet to enter the nest, then surround its body with their vibrating wings until the combined heat of honey bee bodies raises the temperature to the degree of killing the hornet. Sadly, North American honey bees are totally vulnerable. The hornets usually decapitate honey bees and feed their bodies to their offspring, even taking over their nests, in some cases. The venomous stinger of an Asian giant hornet is about one-quarter-inch long, and that is enough to puncture a beekeeping suit.
With an average honey bee visiting around 5,000 flowers in one day, honey bees are among the most efficient pollinator species in the world and the most commonly used as commercial pollinators in the U.S. A possible rise in the numbers of Asian giant hornets in the U.S. could pose a great threat to the already-declining honey bee population and, consequently, the balance of our ecosystem.