[Vision2020] WSU scientists enlist citizens in hunt for giant, bee-killing hornet

Kenneth Marcy kmmos1 at frontier.com
Wed Apr 8 18:50:23 PDT 2020

WSU scientists enlist citizens in hunt for giant, bee-killing hornet

  * Food & Agriculture <https://news.wsu.edu/category/food-agriculture/>

  WSU scientists enlist citizens in hunt for giant, bee-killing hornet

April 6, 2020

Closeup of Asian giant hornet. 
Asian giant hornet, the world's largest species of hornet, was found 
late last year in northwest Washington. WSU Extension scientists are 
partnering with state agencies, beekeepers, and citizens to identify and 
report the invasive insect (Photo courtesy WSDA).

By Seth Truscott, College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource 

PULLMAN, Wash. – More than two inches long, the world’s largest hornet 
carries a painful, sometimes lethal sting and an appetite for honey 
bees. It is also the newest insect invader of Washington state.

The Asian giant hornet, /Vespa mandarinia/, is unmistakable, said Susan 
Cobey, bee breeder with Washington State University’s Department of 

“They’re like something out of a monster cartoon with this huge 
yellow-orange face,” she said.

“It’s a shockingly large hornet,” added Todd Murray, WSU Extension 
entomologist and invasive species specialist. “It’s a health hazard, and 
more importantly, a significant predator of honey bees.”

Cobey, Murray and other WSU scientists are bracing for the giant 
hornet’s emergence this spring. Sighted for the first time in Washington 
last December, the hornet will start to become active in April. WSU 
researchers are working with the Washington State Department of 
Agriculture (WSDA), beekeepers and citizens to find it, study it and 
help roll back its spread.

    Voracious predator

In the first-ever sightings in the U.S., WSDA verified two reports of 
the Asian giant hornet late last year near Blaine, Wash. and received 
two probable, but unconfirmed reports, from sites in Custer, Wash.

It is not known how or where the hornet first arrived in North America. 
Insects are frequently transported in international cargo and are 
sometimes transported deliberately.

At home in the forests and low mountains of eastern and southeast Asia, 
the hornet feeds on large insects, including native wasps and bees. In 
Japan, it devastates the European honey bee, which has no effective defense.

An Asian Hornet held in someone's handAsian giant hornets are usually 
about 1.5 to 2 inches in length, with an orange-yellow head and striped 
abdomen (Photo courtesy WSDA).

The Asian giant hornet’s life cycle begins in April, when queens emerge 
from hibernation, feed on plant sap and fruit, and look for an 
underground dens to build their nests. Once established, colonies grow 
and send out workers to find food and prey.

Hornets are most destructive in the late summer and early fall, when 
they are on the hunt for sources of protein to raise next year’s queens. 
/V. mandarinia /attack honey bee hives, killing adult bees and devouring 
bee larvae and pupae, while aggressively defending the occupied colony. 
Their stings are big and painful, with a potent neurotoxin. Multiple 
stings can kill humans, even if they are not allergic.

    Forever changes

Growers depend on honey bees to pollinate many important northwest crops 
like apples, blueberries and cherries.

With the threat from hornets, “beekeepers may be reluctant to bring 
their hives here,” said Island County Extension scientist Tim Lawrence.

“As a new species entering our state, this is the first drop in the 
bucket,” said Murray. Once established, invasive species like the 
spotted wing drosophila fruit fly or the zebra mussel make “forever 
changes” to local crops and ecologies.

“Just like that, it’s forever different,” Murray said. “We need to teach 
people how to recognize and identify this hornet while populations are 
small, so that we can eradicate it while we still have a chance.”

Beekeepers, WSU Master Gardener volunteers and other Extension clients 
are often the first detectors of invasive species. WSU scientists are 
now spreading awareness of the hornet to citizens and developing a fact 
sheet to help people identify and safely encounter the insects.

As partners with the Washington Invasive Species Council, they also urge 
citizens to download the WA Invasives smartphone app 
for quick reporting of sightings.

“We need to get the word out,” said Lawrence. “We need to get a clear 
image of what’s happening out there, and have people report it as soon 
as possible.”

    Early detection, faster eradication

Scientists with the WSDA Pest Program are taking the lead on finding, 
trapping and eradicating the pest. WSDA will begin trapping for queens 
this spring, with a focus on Whatcom, Skagit, San Juan, and Island counties.

“Our focus is on detection and eradication,” said WSDA entomologist 
Chris Looney.

close up of hornet stingerA close-up of an Asian giant hornet’s stinger. 
The hornet can sting through most beekeeper suits, can deliver nearly 
seven times the amount of venom as a honey bee, and can sting multiple 
times (Photo courtesy WSDA).

The agency plans to collaborate with local beekeepers and WSU Extension 
scientists and entomologists with WSU focusing its efforts on management 
advice for beekeepers.

Regular beekeeping suits are poor protection against this hornet’s 
sting, said Looney. WSDA ordered special reinforced suits from China.

“Don’t try to take them out yourself if you see them,” he said. “If you 
get into them, run away, then call us! It is really important for us to 
know of every sighting, if we’re going to have any hope of eradication.”

To report an Asian Giant Hornet sighting, contact the Washington State 
Department of Agriculture Pest Program at 1-800-443-6684, 
pestprogram at agr.wa.gov <mailto:pestprogram at agr.wa.gov>or online at 

For questions about protecting honey bees from hornets, contact WSU 
Extension scientist Tim Lawrence at (360) 639-6061 or 
timothy.lawrence at wsu.edu <mailto:timothy.lawrence at wsu.edu>.

    Media contacts:

  * Tim Lawrence, WSU Island County Extension Director, (360) 639-6061,
    timothy.lawrence at wsu.edu <mailto:timothy.lawrence at wsu.edu>
  * Seth Truscott, College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource
    Sciences, struscott at wsu.edu <mailto:struscott at wsu.edu>

Infographic: A giant problem for bees Washington State University 
scientists are helping spread the word about the impact of the Asian 
giant hornet. Citizens can help by downloading the Washington Invasives 
App and reporting sightings. Suspected sightings of this invasive 
species should be reported to the WSDA Pest Program Hotline at 
1-800-443-6684 or online at agr.wa.gov/hornets The Asian giant hornet is 
Washington’s newest insect invader. Sighted in the Pacific Northwest 
last year, the hornet is a voracious predator of honey bees and other 
insects, and threatens valuable pollinators. Adults are 1.5 to 2 inches 
long, with a large yellow or orange head and a black- and yellow-striped 
abdomen. Attacking hives, a single hornet can kill dozens of honey bees 
in minutes. A group of 30 hornets can destroy an entire hive of 30,000 
bees in less than four hours. There have been two confirmed specimens in 
fall 2019, and four unconfirmed reports in Washington since the initial 
detection. Hornets attack bee hives in the late summer and early fall to 
feed their young queens. They defend occupied hives and can sting 
through beekeeper suits. Giant hornets have nearly seven times the 
amount of venom as a honey bee. Multiple stings can kill.



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