Eleven months after murder hornets were first discovered in the United States, entomologists have tracked down and destroyed the first nest of this invasive, venomous species.
The Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia) nest was found on private property in Blaine, Washington, on Friday (Oct. 23). On Saturday, state Agriculture Department crews donned protective suits and vacuumed the stinging insects out of the hive, according to the Associated Press. Next, the tree where the hive was found will be cut down so that crews can search for any baby hornets and determine if any queens may have departed to start new hives in the area.
Asian giant hornets are nicknamed "murder hornets" for their nasty sting, which has been described as feeling like a hot nail driven into flesh. The hornets can also spray venom from their stingers, which can cause serious eye injuries. But the real threat from the invasive species is to honeybees; the giant hornets feed on honeybees, which are already declining in population.
"Only a few Asian giant hornets can take out 30,000 healthy honeybees in just a matter of a few hours," state Department of Agriculture entomologist Sven Spichiger told reporters in a news conference on Friday (Oct. 23). "And unfortunately, the managed honeybees we use here have no natural defense against them that's effective at all."
Between 100 and 200 murder hornets were found in the newly discovered nest, which sat about 7 feet (2.1 meters) up in the hollow portion of a tree, according to the Seattle Times. State entomologists have been on high alert for the hornets since they were first reported in Washington in late 2019. The hornets grow up to 1.75 inches (4.4 centimeters) in length and are native to South and East Asia. They have also been spotted in Canada in 2019 and 2020.
To discover the nest, entomologists trapped four live hornets and attached radio trackers to the insects with dental floss. The hornets then led crews directly to the nest, which was the size of a basketball, officials said.
Crews wore thick protective suits and face shields on Saturday as they filled the nest's exits with foam and then sucked out the hornets inside with vacuum canisters. They then wrapped the tree in plastic wrap and filed it with carbon dioxide to kill any remaining insects. The entomologists said they will continue to search for more hornets' nests in the area.
Originally published on Live Science.
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Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.