A giant ‘murder hornet’ has just been found in a new part of the United States.
The dead insect was discovered in a county of Washington state just north of Seattle by a member of the public in early June. DNA testing has since confirmed it is an Asian giant hornet, or Vespa mandarinia.
Because the corpse was exceptionally dry, experts think it’s been dead for a while, and is most likely a remnant from last season. Being male – which don’t tend to emerge until July or later – boosts the case for it being an older specimen. At the time, no one was aware there were giant hornets this far south.
In late 2019 and early 2020, the first nests of Asian giant hornets were discovered in British Columbia and the United States, right near the border of Canada.
How the hornets got to this region of the world is still unclear, but because these pests can decapitate whole hives of bees in just a few hours, they represent a huge threat to local ecosystems and agriculture.
Since their presence became known, government officials in Washington state have been actively setting traps for these insects and destroying any nests they find. But up until now, these efforts have been focused mainly on northwestern parts of the state.
The new corpse, discovered near the city of Marysville, suggests officials need to expand their search. Entomologists, employed by the state, are now actively surveying counties further south, to see if a population exists there as well.
The DNA and coloring of the corpse found in Snohomish county doesn’t seem to match the hornets discovered on the Canadian border, which suggests there could be a separate, unrelated invasion in other parts of the state.
If that’s true, officials need to know sooner rather than later. Because giant hornets are such strong fliers, their populations can easily spread, which will make it much harder to track down their nests for extermination.
“This new report continues to underscore how important public reporting is for all suspected invasive species, but especially Asian giant hornet,” says entomologist Sven Spichiger from the Washington State Department of Agriculture.
“We’ll now be setting traps in the area and encouraging citizen scientists to trap in Snohomish and King counties. None of this would have happened without an alert resident taking the time to snap a photo and submit a report.”
Dormant in winter, giant hornets are expected to start emerging once again in July. It remains to be seen where they will pop up in 2021, but officials in Washington fully expect these pests to have spread to other parts of the state.
The dead insect from near Marysville could be an omen of what is soon to come.