The past few decades have been hard for bees, with climate change, pollution, habitat loss, and colony collapse disorder threatening their numbers and, as a result, the agricultural industry as a whole.
Now, beekeepers have yet another problem to worry about: Asian giant hornets, also known, endearingly enough, as “murder hornets.”
Native to eastern and southeastern Asia, the hornets first appeared near Blaine in late 2019. Although nobody knows how the hornets arrived in the states, invasive insects occasionally cross the sea on imported cargo.
According to Ruthie Danielsen, a beekeeper with the Mt. Baker Beekeepers Association, the Asian giant hornet poses a huge threat to honey bees and wasps. The hornets eat bees and wasps for protein, and can wipe out an entire hive in a matter of hours.
They also pose a threat to humans. Although the hornets don’t typically target people or pets, they will attack if threatened. “They do not lose their stinger when they sting you and they sting you multiple times,” Danielsen says.
Should you get stung, the effects are much more severe than a regular bee sting, since the venom is more toxic. Danielsen recommends going to an emergency room if you get stung.
As for what the general public can do to help combat the hornets, the Washington State Department of Agriculture’s website has instructions for how to create a bottle trap using household supplies. The department emphasizes that trapping hornets requires a commitment, as trappers must report their trap, monitor it, and send in any specimens. It may also put the trapper at risk of getting stung.
Danielsen also warns people to familiarize themselves with what an Asian giant hornet looks like before trapping any insects. She worries people will mistake innocent honeybees for the deadly hornets.
“The biggest thing that worries me is that beneficial insects will get killed, because people won’t recognize what a really large bumblebee is,” Danielsen says.
With more people informed, though, Danielsen believes there is hope to stop the hornets from establishing themselves.
“We do have a chance if we get enough people looking, enough traps up, [and] if we make a concerted effort to find their nests, then we have a chance,” Danielsen says.
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