The Asian giant hornet - sometimes called the killer hornet - arrived in Northwest Washington last fall, alarming entomologists and prompting Washington State University scientists to ask citizens to help trap the bug to determine its travel patterns, eliminate in-ground dens and prevent them from getting a toehold here.
The insect has not yet been discovered anywhere south of Bellingham—and scientists want to keep it that way.
The first hornet was discovered by a beekeeper in Blaine, who noticed a pile of bee heads at the base of a hive last November. A second insect was found in Bellingham, and there have been two unconfirmed sightings. Two others have been found in White Rock and Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
How they got there is one of many unknowns.
“All the people who reached out to us, it was because something they didn’t recognize,” said Chris Looney, an entomologist with the state Department of Agriculture who spoke to the Washington Invasive Species Council in February. “They found something — ‘What’s this enormous thing on my doorstep?’ Lots and lots of exotic pests are detected that way. We discover as much that way as we do our surveys.”
The hornet is the world’s largest and most ferocious looking, with a 3-inch wingspan similar to that of a dragonfly and teardrop-shaped eyes. The 2-inch-long body features orange and black stripes and its sting is said to feel like a red-hot tack stabbing the body; even protective bee suits are no match for its stinger.
“They’re notorious for attacks on social insects, especially honeybees,” Looney said. “They find one, and at some point, hornets begin to focus on the hive, mark it with pheromones and essentially come in groups and capture every adult bee, kill them and throw them on the ground.
“They literally slaughter all the workers. Then they treat the hive like their own. In this occupation phase, they treat (the hive) like a grocery store; they pull the larvae and pupae and return them to their nest for food. And the bees are woefully ill-equipped to deal with it in single combat. They’re sitting bees.”