Asian giant hornets (AGH) first appeared in the Northwest during the fall, the home for European honeybees who work to pollinate crops and support the ecosystem of Washington State.
“Beekeepers in the Pacific Northwest should be very concerned with the hornet’s discovery in British Columbia and northwest Washington State,” warned the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA).
There is speculation as to how they arrived in Wash., though one of the main theories is through the accidental transportation of a pregnant queen overseas. AGH threaten the ecosystem through their carnivorous behavior; they decapitate honeybees to obtain the thorax, which is the part that they use to feed their colonies.
One AGH can kill one European honeybee every 14 seconds. In just hours, thousands of bodies could be on the ground.
A European honeybee doesn’t have the same instinct as Japanese honeybees, which have evolved to attack a single hornet as they circle together and contract their muscles. This cooks the intruding hornet within the oven-like ball before it can fly back to its hive and gather a slaughtering crew, according to the New York Times.
Last year, there were two confirmed sightings of the invasive species in Blaine, Wash. There currently haven’t been any reported sightings in Pierce county or any neighboring counties.
“If they were to become established, we would expect to see impacts to all kinds of local insects as well as to honeybees and honey production and potentially reduced pollination,” said Karla Salp, a public engagement specialist for WSDA.
Some beekeepers across Northern Wash. are putting out traps, which lead people to the location of the hives once the hornet is freed. Eliminating the hornets requires advanced beekeeper protection suits and carbon dioxide, along with the approach of attacking during the night.
In an effort to stop this invasive species, the WSDA published a strict program for those who wish to volunteer in the trap-making process. Bottle traps are made from two-liter plastic bottles filled with rice cooking wine and orange juice. The bottles are then hung from tree branches at a height of at least six feet.
The traps must be refilled and checked every week according to WSDA’s website, and all volunteers should report trap locations on the hornet watch trap submission map as well as mail all deceased specimen samples for evaluation. WSDA advises not to handle the trap if a live specimen is caught, as they pose a threat to human health; instead, contact WSDA immediately at 1-800-443-6684.
European honeybees aren’t the only target, however, as the hornets have been known to kill about 50 people per year in Japan, likely due to being disturbed in mass numbers according to Justin Scmidt, an entomologist who studies at the Southwestern Biological Institute, University of Arizona.
“The AGH tends not to be aggressive toward people, though it will attack when their nest or food source is threatened,” according to the WSDA.
The queens can grow up to two inches in size, and the hornets have the wing type of a dragonfly with an orange head and stripes. The stinger of an AGH is roughly a quarter of an inch long and they’ve been known to spray venom as one of their various attack methods.
If a victim is allergic to the AGH venom, stings can cause them to enter a state of anaphylactic shock.
The occurrence felt like being “stabbed by a red-hot needle,” said Shunichi Makino to National Geographic, when describing his experience with being stung at work. Makino observes and studies bees and wasps in Japan at the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute.
AGH tend to ignore humans when unprovoked, though they raise concern for a number of officials about the dependence of the United States on honeybees, if they’re to spread.
“We’re just taking it step by step, you know. Okay these are present, the next step is to see how present they are,” said Executive Director Jenifer Priest from the Washington State Beekeepers Association.
Though there have only been a few sightings in Northern Washington, preventing the spread of the AGH is a process taken seriously by the WSDA in order to preserve the European honeybee population.
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