Oct 24, 2020 - Science

The murder hornets are here

A braver man than me holds a speciment of the Asian giant hornet. Photo: Karen Ducey/Getty Images
A braver man than me holds a speciment of the Asian giant hornet. Photo: Karen Ducey/Getty Images

Entomologists in Washington state on Thursday discovered the first Asian giant hornet nest in the U.S.

Why it matters: You may know this insect species by its nom de guerre: "the murder hornet." While the threat they pose to humans has been overstated, the invading hornets could decimate local honeybee populations if they establish themselves.

How it works: The giant hornets, which are native to east Asia, grow as long as two inches and use spiked mandibles to decapitate honeybees.

  • They have also been known to attack animals and human beings using a stinger long enough to puncture a beekeeper's protective suit and venom that the New York Times described as "hot metal driving into their skin."
  • In Japan they're known to kill people occasionally, though in fairness to the murder hornets, the insects are also considered a tasty delicacy themselves in some parts of the country.

Background: Last year, beekeepers in Washington began reporting sightings of the hornet, prompting scientists to begin tracking the insects.

  • On Wednesday, entomologists at the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) captured two live giant hornets that had been caught in a trap. They attached radio trackers to the insects, one of which led them back to a nest in a tree in the town of Blaine the following day.

What's next: The WSDA had planned to eliminate the nest on Friday, but had to postpone the eradication until Saturday because of inclement weather.

  • Far be it from me to tell the WSDA how to do their jobs, but maybe it's worth braving a little rain to wipe out a nest of invasive murdering insects.

The bottom line: Somehow this didn't come up in Thursday's presidential debate, but I think we can all agree on a blanket ban for all invasive species with "murder" in their names.

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