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Crews vacuum ‘murder hornets’ out of Washington state nest

  • Author: Nicholas K. Geranios, Associated Press
  • Updated: October 24
  • Published October 23

Sven Spichiger, Washington State Department of Agriculture managing entomologist, displays a canister of Asian giant hornets vacuumed from a nest in a tree behind him Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

BLAINE, Wash. — Heavily protected crews in Washington state worked Saturday to destroy the first nest of so-called murder hornets discovered in the United States.

The state Agriculture Department had spent weeks searching, trapping and using dental floss to tie tracking devices to Asian giant hornets, which can deliver painful stings to people and spit venom but are the biggest threat to honeybees that farmers depend on to pollinate crops.

The nest found in the city of Blaine near the Canadian border is about the size of a basketball and contained an estimated 100 to 200 hornets, according to scientists who announced the find Friday. Officials have said it’s not known how they arrived in North America.

Crews wearing thick protective suits vacuumed the invasive insects from the cavity of a tree into large canisters Saturday. The suits prevent the hornets' 6-millimeter-long stingers from hurting workers, who also wore face shields because the trapped hornets can spit a painful venom into their eyes.

The tree will be cut down to extract newborn hornets and learn if any queens have left the hive already, scientists said. Officials suspect more nests may be in the area and will keep searching. A news briefing was planned Monday on the status of the nest.

A Washington State Department of Agriculture workers holds two of the dozens of Asian giant hornets vacuumed from a tree Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Wearing a protective suit, Washington State Department of Agriculture entomologist Chris Looney fills a tree cavity with carbon dioxide after vacuuming a nest of Asian giant hornets from inside it Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Washington State Department of Agriculture entomologist Chris Looney looks at two of the dozens of Asian giant hornets he vacuumed from a nest in a nearby tree Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Despite their nickname and the hype that has stirred fears in an already bleak year, the world’s largest hornets kill at most a few dozen people a year in Asian countries, and experts say it is probably far less. Meanwhile, hornets, wasps and bees typically found in the United States kill an average of 62 people a year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said.

The real threat from Asian giant hornets — which are 2 inches long — is their devastating attacks on honeybees, which are already under siege from problems like mites, diseases, pesticides and loss of food. A small group of the hornets can kill an entire honeybee hive in hours, and they have already destroyed six or seven hives in Washington state, officials said.

Scientists for the state Agriculture Department have been searching for nests since the first Asian giant hornets were caught earlier this year. The first confirmed detection of the hornet in the U.S. was in December 2019 near Blaine and the first live hornet was trapped this July. Just over 20 have been caught so far, all in Whatcom County.

The invasive insect is normally found in China, Japan, Thailand, South Korea, Vietnam and other Asian countries. Washington state and the Canadian province of British Columbia are the only places the hornets have been found on the continent.

Sven Spichiger, Washington State Department of Agriculture managing entomologist, walks with a canister of Asian giant hornets vacuumed from a nest in a tree behind him Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
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