Workers wearing protective suits have eradicated the first nest of giant “murder hornets” discovered in the United States, vacuuming them out of a tree in Washington state.
The nest of Asian giant hornets was found on Thursday by Washington State Department of Agriculture entomologists on a property in Blaine, near the border with Canada, the agency said.
They spent weeks searching for the nest, trapping hornets and tracking them, using dental floss to tie tiny radio trackers on the insects, which are about five centimetres in length and have a painful sting.
Before dawn on Saturday, a team of workers dressed from head to toe in protective suits vacuumed the insects out of their nest in the cavity of a dead tree.
“Got ’em. Vacuumed out several #AsianGiantHornets from a tree cavity near Blaine this morning,” the state agriculture department said on Twitter later on Saturday, along with a video showing a mass of hornets in a transparent container.
It said the removal of the nest appeared to have been successful.
Scientists in Washington state have been actively searching for the Asian giant hornet since the first such insect was detected in December 2019.
One of the wasps was trapped in July in Whatcom County, where Blaine is, and Canada found Asian giant hornets in two places in neighbouring British Columbia.
Several more of the invasive pest, which is not native to the US, were subsequently caught, all in the same region.
The WSDA believes there is a good chance that there are more nests.
“Stopping this cold is very crucial,” said Sven Spichiger, an entomologist with WSDA.
“If it becomes established, this hornet will have negative impacts on the environment, economy and public health of Washington State,” the WSDA said.
Scientists say that unless the insect is eliminated in the next couple of years, it could spread in North America and become established permanently.
The hornets, which are native to East Asia and Japan, usually do not attack people but they are known for destroying honeybee colonies.
They slaughter the bees by biting their heads off, then occupy the bee nests for a week or more, feeding on the pupae and larvae.
In Japan, where the insects are hunted and eaten, about 30 to 50 people die each year from their venomous and excruciating sting.