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10 things you should know about the Asian giant hornet10 things you should know about the Asian giant hornet

This invasive species is getting a lot of national attention, but what should those in the West know?

Willie Vogt

June 10, 2020

5 Min Read
Asian giant hornet
SCARY INVADER: The Asian giant hornet has gotten a lot of attention, and the recent find of a dead queen shows the pest can overwinter in Washington state. This image is from Japan. kororokerokero/Getty Images

During a media call recently, Sven-Erik Spichiger was asked about the phrase “murder hornet” in reference to the newly discovered invasive Asian giant hornet. “In my opinion, it is unnecessary sensationalism,” he says. “That one snippet has become very popular. It’s unfortunate from my perspective.”

If you search that non-preferred term, you get some information, but mostly sensational news. Search “Asian giant hornet” — or better yet, “Vespa mandarinia” — and you get a lot more valuable information, he says. And having the right information about this daunting pest will be important for efforts by folks in the Washington State Department of Agriculture to track that invasive hornet.

What follow are 10 facts you should know about this new scary bug:

1. Location, location, location. It’s in Washington state and British Columbia, Canada — nowhere else. That’s important, because setting up traps elsewhere may attract beneficial wasps and bees, which could be more harmful. The trapping should be focused in the areas where Asian giant hornets were first found last December, and that’s the same area where that recent dead queen was found near Custer, Wash., in Whatcom County.

2. A commitment must be made to trap. Trapping is a key tool for managing any invasive species including the Asian giant hornet, but according to WSDA, trapping takes commitment. If a Washington resident commits to trapping, the department will require you to obtain materials to build and maintain traps; log your traps on WSDA’s online mapping system; and check your traps weekly for 17 weeks, starting in July and doing it into the fall. Each week, you also must submit trap contents if they contain a bee, hornet or wasp of any kind; or if there does not appear to be a bee, wasp or hornet, submit a photo of the trap contents. There are instructions regarding traps and how to make a trap on the WSDA website. 

3. It’s not established in the U.S. With all the media hoopla, and of course the funny Facebook memes, you might think the hornet is already a full-time resident in the U.S. Not true. So far, few have been found, which means it is not considered “established” in the region. That happens when there are multiple finds of the insect over time. That would include workers, colonies and nests, and they’re found every year. Says Spichiger: “Right now, we’re on the cusp of that, and we’ll find out from our survey work if anything is established. Clearly, there’s one nest.”

4. It nests in the ground. The hornet usually nests in the ground. There have been a few instances of tree voids or voids aboveground, but Spichiger says 90% are ground nesters. He also adds that western Washington offers a particularly good habitat; but he also note that if it spreads, conditions are just right anywhere east of the Mississippi.

5. It’s not out for murder. That “murder hornet” name for the insect also makes it sound as if it might be roaming the skies in search of victims. While it is if you’re a honeybee, they are not likely to simply attack something bigger — like a human — unless they feel threatened. Anyone finding one of these bugs is advised to try to take a picture but avoid provoking the hornet. If they are provoked, they can do a lot of harm, and the sting has been known to be fatal to some people.

6. Here’s what Asian giant hornet traps teach. The trapping program, which will begin in earnest by July, is aimed at capturing workers from a hornet’s nest. This will show the extent of spread if more workers appear. The hope is to capture some workers alive, and to use technology to trace them back to the nest. With that information, eradication measures can be taken.

7. It has an interesting life cycle. Spichiger explains that the mating caste emerges in the fall, which includes fertile queens that overwinter and establish themselves. Or they can simply die out. The species does have a low percentage of queens survive. The recently found dead queen is being tested to see if it was fertile. The key is whether there are fertile queens, that have come from an established nest, that are now nesting and hatching workers for this season.

8. You’re going to need a tougher suit. Spichiger alluded to his “exciting-looking hornet suit” that he would wear if entering a property to eradicate a nest. A standard beekeeping suit is not adequate, because the stinger on a 2-inch Asian giant hornet can go right through standard beekeeper suit material. A special suit is required, and WSDA has not tested any suits and offers no recommendations on which suit would protect you.

9. And if you find a suspected Asian giant hornet? Spichiger recommends people do exactly what the Custer, Wash., resident did when finding the dead wasp by a roadway. Report the find to WSDA, and provide a record of what you’ve found. Try to get a photo — but that’s not recommended near a live hornet, since getting close could be seen as a threat. If you find a dead one, save the specimen, and WSDA will send someone to collect it and verify the find. You can report it by email to [email protected] or call 800-443-6684.

10. Dodged a bullet? Not yet. If the extensive trapping program being coordinated by WSDA doesn’t find anything this year, is Washington home-free? “If we find nothing with this effort, that’s excellent news, but I have to do that for three years before we can declare that we’re free of this pest. That’s the benchmark to meet for legal and trade purchases,” Spichiger says.


About the Author(s)

Willie Vogt

Executive Director, Content and User Engagement

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