The discovery of a queen Asian Giant Hornet in northeast Bellingham, Washington marks the fourth Asian Giant Hornet discovered in Washington state and in the United States.
The introduction of the Asian Giant Hornet (Vespa Mandarinia) species is certain in Washington state and the first known introduction in the United States. The possibility of stow away introduction to ports in British Columbia and Washington state has opened the door to speculation about the chance of a stow away hornet on a freighter jet at O’Hare International Airport. If a fertilized stow away Asian Giant Hornet queen flew out of a freighter jet after arrival at O’Hare International Airport, the hornet could possibly establish a colony nearby (e.g., along the Des Plaines River woods just east of O’Hare). However, several successful steps would be necessary to establish a colony in any introduction to a new remote land because not all queens are fertilized, and not all fertilized queens successfully develop a colony.
Two Asian Giant Hornets workers were discovered near Blaine, Washington in December 2019. Another was found near Custer, Washington in late May 2020. Then a queen was found near Bellingham, Washington in June 2020. Initially there were not many details released about the queen in Bellingham, except that it was found on a front porch squirming, according to Karla Salp, Public Engagement Specialist with the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA). The queen was killed by residents using a smash technique in a paper towel. The queen’s DNA is being tested and there is also an ongoing effort to investigate whether the queen was fertilized in a hornet autopsy. The damage done to the queen increases the difficulty of determining whether the queen was fertilized.
We’re never actually going to know how exactly they (Asian Giant Hornets) got here, but the most likely route is through international trade. There’s a vibrant port system here both in British Columbia and in Washington State and there’s quite a bit of trade that comes from the Far East where these are native, and it’s entirely possible that an overwintering Queen was able to stow away on either cargo or some kind of container and make its way to Washington.
— Sven-Erik Spichiger, Managing Entomologist at Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA)
A recent 2020 finding in Langley, British Columbia was also a queen. If workers begin to be detected this summer, then scientists know they have an established nest in the area. Canada also had a photographic detection near White Rock, British Columbia which is a little over 2 miles northwest of Blaine, Washington. In a DNA test of a 2019 nest in Nainamo, British Columbia, compared to a DNA test of a hornet detected in Blaine, Washington, preliminary DNA testing indicates the Asian Giant Hornets involved two separate introductions “completely” from two different countries (presumably in Asia).
An entire Asian Giant Hornet nest was discovered in Nainamo, British Columbia in September 2019. This was the first known introduction of Asian Giant Hornet in the wild in North America.
On May 27, 2020 a resident near Custer, Washington found a dead Asian Giant Hornet specimen while walking on a roadway. The resident submitted a photo and report using WSDA’s online Hornet Watch Report Form. On May 28, 2020, WSDA entomologists concluded that the photo appeared to show an Asian giant hornet. The specimen was collected and submitted for laboratory testing the same day. State and federal labs confirmed that the specimen was an Asian giant hornet on May 29, 2020.
The hornet was detected near the location of a suspected Asian giant hornet bee kill in 2019. WSDA had already planned trapping in the area and will maintain that plan to try to find any colony that may be there.
Experts say Asian Giant Hornet aren’t aggressive, but the hornets are aggressive when people inadvertently or intentionally are positioned within 15-20 feet of a nest. The humming noise of the hornet is ominous, and one research study published in Toxicon stated that when researchers disturbed a nest, attacking worker hornets flew toward the researchers while making loud clicking sounds with their mandibles.
Stings from Asian Giant Hornet can inject a high volume of venom and are very painful stings, averaging 4.7 µL per hornet with a maximum of 12.5 µl per hornet. The venom also contains a cell membrane-disrupting toxin (VESCP-M2) that underlies a molecular mechanism of human tissue damage, which includes dermal necrosis and edema. Cardioactive effects of rapid heart rate and atrioventricular block from Vespa mandarinia venom injected in rats has also been detected.
Most Asian Giant Hornet nests are located in the ground, but have been known to be located in trees or other higher locations.
In flight, the Asian Giant Hornet almost appears to be a bird. In Japan, where the hornet has also been named a subspecies Vespa mandarinia japonica, the hornet is also known as the Giant Sparrow Bee.
A European Hornet (Vespa crabo) is often mistaken for Asian Giant Hornet (Vespa mandarinia) because of their similar large size. Asian Giant Hornet has solid striping on the abdomen, while European Hornet has a perpendicular teardrop marking. Asian Giant Hornet also has a bright orange, plastic-looking head, usually brighter than the European Hornet head.
European Hornet is common in New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and other states east of the Mississippi River, and less common in Illinois and Indiana.
Asian Giant Hornet has only been officially sighted in the State of Washington (December 2019), but that doesn’t mean with 100 percent certainty that Asian Giant Hornet is not located in other states.
Asian Hornet or yellow-legged hornet (Vespa velutina), NOT Asian Giant Hornet (Vespa mandarainia), is a major problem in Europe, following its introduction into Europe several years ago and subsequent establishment in the continent, especially in France.
Queens, workers and nests of Asian Giant Hornet have been officially discovered in North America since 2019.
There are at least 23 species of Vespa recognized worldwide.
The bald-faced hornet (Dolichovespula maculata) established in Illinois is not a true hornet, but behaves like a hornet with colony attacks when humans approach nests. Bald-faced hornet workers aggressively defend their nest by repeatedly stinging victims.
The major concern of entomologists is eradication of Asian Giant Hornet to prevent the destruction of managed honeybee hives. Twenty or more Asian Giant Hornet workers can destroy a bee hive in hours with no losses to the worker hornets.
Entomologist oppose the use of term “murder hornet” as misleading.
“The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has developed response guidelines that include several options for eradicating the Asian giant hornet should additional hornets be detected in Washington State. At this time, there is no evidence that Asian giant hornets are established in Washington State or anywhere else in the United States,” according to Osama El-Lissy, Deputy Administrator, for USDA/APHIS’ Plant Protection and Quarantine program.
The first find of the year 2020 in the United States comes just days after the British Columbian government confirmed their first detection of the year in Canada near Langley, B.C. That specimen was initially reported to authorities on May 15, 2020.
Asian giant hornet is the world’s largest hornet and a predator of honey bees and other insects. A small group of Asian giant hornets can kill an entire honey bee hive in a matter of hours.
Unfortunately, Washington State particularly Western Washington is ideal habitat for Asian Giant Hornet … [from early modeling indications] everything basically east of the Mississippi River would be ideal habitats, and the Pacific Northwest including northern California, Oregon, and Washington also serves as excellent habitat for Asian Giant Hornet.
— Sven-Erik Spichiger, Managing Entomologist at Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA)
WSDA received the first report of Asian giant hornet last December 2019 from a resident near Blaine and later learned of another specimen in the area which Washington State University had collected. These were the first-ever confirmed sightings of Asian giant hornet in the United States.
Since the specimens were confirmed in Washington late last year, state entomologists have been working with USDA to create trapping and eradication plans for this invasive pest in order to protect honey bees and the hundreds of crops in Washington that depend on those bees for pollination.
“This is truly a collaborative effort,” Sven Spichiger, managing entomologist for WSDA’s Pest Program, said. “From federal and state partners to individual beekeepers and proactive community members, it will take all of us working together to locate and eradicate Asian giant hornets from our state.”
WSDA plans to locate these hornets through trapping and public reporting of Asian giant hornet sightings. Members of the Mt. Baker Beekeeper Association have also partnered with WSDA to place experimental traps.
WSDA has also provided trapping instructions for citizen scientists who would like to build and place traps starting in July for Asian giant hornets on their property and report the results to WSDA. Commercially available hornet and wasp traps will not catch Asian giant hornets as the holes are too small for Asian giant hornets to enter the traps.
Although not typically aggressive toward humans, Asian giant hornets do pose a human health threat. Their sting is more dangerous than that of local bees and wasps and can cause severe pain, swelling, necrosis, and, in rare cases, even death. Anyone who is allergic to bee or wasp stings should not approach or attempt to trap for Asian giant hornets.
There have not been any officially confirmed sightings of Asian Giant Hornet in any other state. European Hornet is another large hornet that is established, especially in the eastern United States. While many people have mistakenly labeled European Hornets as Asian Giant Hornets, there are some individuals that are adamant that they have seen the Asian Giant Hornet areas of the United States outside of the state of Washington.
New Asian giant hornet sighting in Washington State – WSDA Virtual Press Conference (Recorded): Sven Spichiger provides information about the new confirmed report of Asian giant hornet in Washington State. The hornet was found near Custer, Washington on May 27, 2020 and confirmed by state and federal labs on May 29, 2020
Ombati R, Wang Y, Du C, et al. A membrane disrupting toxin from wasp venom underlies the molecular mechanism of tissue damage. Toxicon. 2018;148:56-63. doi:10.1016/j.toxicon.2018.04.011
Abe T, Kawai N. Cardioactive effects of hornet venom, Vespa mandarinia. Comp Biochem Physiol C. 1983;76(2):221-225.
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Early 2020 Queen Sightings …
KING 5: The invasive species Asian Giant Hornet poses a threat to bees, and officials are racing to wipe the Asian giant hornets out.
Arirang News: Asian giant hornet found in Washington State, putting U.S. on alert.
Arirang TV is an English-language South Korean television network based in Seoul that targets an overseas audience. Arirang TV is operated by the Korea International Broadcasting Foundation and is financially supported by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. Arirang TV is considered a public relations channel of the South Korean government.