Entomologists are on mission to stop murder hornets spreading in America

The giant hornets, dubbed 'murder hornets' by some researchers, kill up to 50 people a year in Japan.

An Asian hornet, Latin name "Vespa Velutina", is seen in Vertou, near Nantes, France, September 10, 2018. (photo credit: STEPHANE MAHE / REUTERS)
An Asian hornet, Latin name "Vespa Velutina", is seen in Vertou, near Nantes, France, September 10, 2018.
(photo credit: STEPHANE MAHE / REUTERS)
Sightings of Asian Giant Hornets in America and Canada have scientists concerned that the insects could establish themselves in north America, devastating local bee populations.
The giant hornets, dubbed 'murder hornets' by some researchers, kill up to 50 people a year in Japan. The world's largest hornet, the insects are on average nearly two inches long, with a stinger a quarter of an inch long packed with a potent venom.
A native of Eastern Asia, the insects feed on tree sap, honey from bee colonies, and the bees themselves, decapitating their smaller cousins and feeding on the thorax - much to the horror of American bee-keepers.
Ted McFall keeps bees in Washington State. Last November he arrived to check on some of his hives, only to find a pile of dead bees in front of a hive and thousands more dead inside, their heads ripped from their bodies.
Invasive ‘Murder Hornets’ Species Spotted in the United States
“I couldn’t wrap my head around what could have done that,” Mr. McFall told the New York Times.
Although Asian hornets were not confirmed as the culprits behind the loss of McFall's hive, two specimens were discovered in the northwest corner of Washington state, just a few miles north of his location.
Jeff Kornelis, who lives just two and a half miles north of McFall, stepped onto his porch last December only to discover one of those specimens.
“It was the biggest hornet I’d ever seen,” Kornelis told the New York Times.
Kornelis contacted the state authorities who confirmed it was an Asian Giant Hornet. Shortly afterward, another beekeeper in the area found the other specimen.
For Ruthie Danielsen, a local beekeeper, the priority was to find out where the hornets were nesting, in order to root them out.
“Most people are scared to get stung by them,” Ms. Danielsen said. “We’re scared that they are going to totally destroy our hives.”
Chris Looney, an entomologist at the Washington State Department of Agriculture, was equally keen to track down the errant species. Looney and his colleagues are worried that if the hornets multiply and spread, they could decimate America's bee population and spread so widely that eradication would become impossible.
Adding to the concern, the Washington state specimens are not the only ones found in north America.
In November, a single insect was found in British Colombia, approximately ten miles from the hornets in Washington state, likely too far for them to have come from the same colony.
Earlier in the year, a whole hive had been found on Vancouver Island. Bérubé, a beekeeper and entomologist in the town of Nanaimo, was sent to exterminate it.
Bérubé went prepared: He wore shorts, thick sweatpants, and his bee suit as well as kevlar braces on his ankles and wrists. Despite approaching at night when the hive was quiet, his flashlight and the disturbance of brush on his approach alerted the hive who attacked him.
“It was like having red-hot thumbtacks being driven into my flesh,” as the hornets stung him through the layers of clothing at least seven times, he told the New York Times.
Despite the attack he pressed on to destroy the nest and collect samples, although he said the next day his legs were aching, as though he had come down with the flu.
Nonetheless, the samples he collected were compared, through genetic analysis, with those found in Washington. The results showed that the two colonies were not linked, suggesting that there had been two separate introductions to the area.
Meanwhile, Looney is determined to track down the hive in Washington, setting makeshift traps of orange juice and rice wine, kefir with water, and some experimental lures. These he hangs from trees, geo-tagging the locations on his phone as he goes.
“This is our window to keep it from establishing,” Looney said. “If we can’t do it in the next couple of years, it probably can’t be done.”