Two unusual hornets with orange and black markings and long stingers were spotted near Blaine, Washington, in late 2019. Subsequent investigation revealed they were Asian giant hornets, the world’s largest wasps. They grow nearly two inches in length. Nobody knows how the insects arrived in the United States. These social wasps form colonies, comprising one queen and many workers. Together, they can fly half a dozen miles or more from the hive to find food. These predators, native to East Asia and Japan, are infamous for decimating honeybee colonies. It’s most likely they got accidentally trapped in shipping containers from one of the countries where they’re native.
With the toxic venom that their large stingers deliver, the insects already are known for killing people in their native habitats. In Japan, an average of 30 to 50 people each year die from the hornets’ stings. In 2013 they killed 42 people in a single Chinese province. Most serious incidents occur when people come near or disturb the insects’ hives.
Know more about the Asian giant Hornets!
They eat many kinds of insects, but they seem to especially enjoy feasting on bees. When they encounter honeybees, their attack starts with a “slaughter phase”. This happens when they serially bite the bees’ heads with their large mandibles. Within 90 minutes, a small group of Asian giant hornets can destroy an entire colony’s workers this way. They occupy the honeybee nest for up to a week or longer, feeding on the pupae and larvae. They then feed it to their own young.
European honeybees (Apis mellifera), the most widespread commercial pollinators, have no known defense against Asian giant hornets. People observed that the bees are stinging the invaders, but it appears to have no effect on these wasps. The Asian giant hornets have stingers a quarter-inch long, which can pierce protective clothing that beekeepers normally wear. Research shows that even in people who aren’t allergic, 50 or fewer stings can cause death due to kidney damage.
In the summer, the researchers will set out hundreds of traps to continue looking for queens and workers. They expect that the hornets would emerge in the summer if any new colonies are established. They could then try to attach radio-transmitting collars so they could track the wasps back to their nests and destroy them. Scientists are concerned that these hornets could spread throughout Washington State and beyond. Thus, presenting a danger to U.S. bees—which are already in decline—and humans. If the Asian giant hornets aren’t headed off in the next couple of years, it will probably be too late to halt their spread across the United States.