Jul 19, 2023 - News

"Murder hornets" have been AWOL for the past year

A biologist with the Washington State Department of Agriculture holds a dead northern giant hornet, sometimes called a "murder hornet." Photo: Karen Ducey/Getty Images

It's been more than a year since the last sighting of the hornet Vespa mandarinia — more widely known as the "murder hornet."

Driving the news: There has not been a confirmed sighting of the northern giant hornet since 2021 when the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) destroyed a nest east of Blaine after trapping, tagging and tracking three specimens.

  • "No news is great news," WSDA spokesperson Amber Betts told Axios this week.

Yes, but: To meet the regulatory definition of eradication, the state must see two more hornet-free years.

Why it matters: While the world's largest hornets have been known to attack and even occasionally kill humans, the greatest threat they pose is to our already endangered honey bee population, a colony of which the hornets can decimate in a few hours during their so-called "slaughter" phase.

Three hornets, with the upper two being giant northern hornets, are shown. The giant northern hornets are much larger than the other hornet.
A display holding two dead northern giant hornets (left and upper right), also known as murder hornets, next to a commonly seen hornet (bottom right). Photo: Karen Ducey/Getty Images

Catch up quick: The insects' presence in the U.S. was first documented at the end of 2019 in Blaine, near the state's border with Canada. Over the next two years, WSDA trapped, tagged and tracked live specimens and by the end of 2021, had successfully destroyed four nests.

  • Three of those four nests were found as a direct result of public awareness and reporting, she said.

What's next: The department is asking residents to watch for the distinctive hornets, take photographs if possible and report potential sightings online.

  • In addition, the department is asking that people pay attention to paper wasps on their property. Rather than taking the nests down, the department wants you to register and monitor the nest.
  • That's because the hornets seem to have "really taken to those paper wasps" and any attacks on them could be an early warning that the hornet problem is not over, Betts said.

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