Whatcom County, Washington, officials announced on Friday that a beekeeper from the Evergreen State had recently delivered a successfully trapped specimen that was later confirmed to be a deceased Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia).
The insect captured by the beekeeper was recorded as one of the smaller worker Asian giant hornets ever observed by experts. The finding of Asian giant hornets smaller than their average length of 1.5 to 2 inches could mean that a number of “murder hornets” went overlooked by experts and concerned Washington residents.
Unfortunately for researchers, the second bit of information they got recently on the invasive species’ development only came in the form of an eyewitness account.
“County officials said someone posted a picture on Facebook of an Asian giant hornet that was taken at a Birch Bay restaurant on Aug. 18 at a restaurant on Birch Bay Drive,” Alfred Charles of KOMO News reported. “The patrons were dining outside when the Asian giant hornet flew up. A restaurant guest was able to take a photograph of the hornet before it flew off without being captured.”
These relatively alarming updates come just days after the Washington State Department of Agriculture’s (WSDA) entomology lab confirmed that they had obtained both a worker and queen hornet specimen via a WSDA-set water bottle trap.
Though the “murder” part of the insect’s nickname sounds aggressive and descriptive, it’s not humans, but honeybees - which boost both the US economy and environmental wellbeing - who are the true victims of the otherwise non-confrontational “murder hornet.”
While in their “slaughter phase,” a colony of Asian giant hornets can usurp a honeybee hive and make quick work of some 30,000 of the hive’s previous occupants via decapitation, according to the WSDA and National Geographic.
After settling into their new abode, the insects begin to reproduce their own colony, usually feeding their offspring protein-rich heads of slain honeybees.
Original Washington state government roadmaps set a mid-September goal for the destruction of a nest belonging to an Asian giant hornet colony. WSDA personnel, citizen scientists and other interested parties were among those who recently set more than 1,400 traps across the state - spanning from makeshift bottle traps to experimental devices.
Scientists have stressed since December 2019 the importance of documenting and immediately donating any captured specimens, so that officials with the state may be able to develop a realistic mitigation model if necessary.
At the same time, a number of additional bits of knowledge on the invasive insect have exposed a bit of how much uncertainty could be in the future for billions of dollars in agriculture.
WSDA managing entomologist Sven Spichiger expressed in the agency’s August 17 release regarding the state’s historic capture of a male Asian giant hornet that while the specimen was retrieved from a trap in Custer, Whatcom County, on July 29 the timing of the event “came as a surprise.”
Generally, colonies don’t show much development until August or September - which may possibly explain the below-average size of the worker Asian giant hornet most recently logged.
“But further examination of the research and consultation with international experts confirmed that a few males can indeed emerge early in the season,” Spichrger said.
“Please do not wait until the end of the season to mail in your samples; submit them each week,” the WSDA urges locals ahead of the upcoming fall season.
Some possible good news is that mated Asian giant hornets are extremely reclusive during the winter season, hiding in soil or “other covered places,” the Washington Post reported in March. That may give researchers more time to find them, though they will be harder to track down.