Crews vacuum ‘murder hornets’ and eliminate Washington nest

BLAINE, Wash. (AP) — Heavily protected crews in Washington state worked Saturday to destroy the first nest of so-called murder hornets discovered in the United States.

The state Agriculture Department had spent weeks searching, trapping and using dental floss to tie tracking devices to Asian giant hornets, which can deliver painful stings to people and spit venom but are the biggest threat to honeybees that farmers depend on to pollinate crops.

The nest found in the city of Blaine near the Canadian border is about the size of a basketball and contained an estimated 100 to 200 hornets, according to scientists who announced the find Friday.

Crews wearing thick protective suits vacuumed the invasive insects from the cavity of a tree into large canisters Saturday. The suits prevent the hornets’ 6-millimeter-long stingers from hurting workers, who also wore face shields because the trapped hornets can spit a painful venom into their eyes.

The tree will be cut down to extract newborn hornets and learn if any queens have left the hive already, scientists said. Officials suspect more nests may be in the area and will keep searching. A news briefing was planned Monday on the status of the nest.

Despite their nickname and the hype that has stirred fears in an already bleak year, the world’s largest hornets kill at most a few dozen people a year in Asian countries, and experts say it is probably far less. Meanwhile, hornets, wasps and bees typically found in the United States kill an average of 62 people a year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said.

6 PHOTOSMurder hornetsSee GalleryMurder hornetsWashington State Department of Agriculture entomologist Chris Looney displays a trap he retrieved, set in an effort to locate the Asian giant hornet, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. The trap only held a couple of native bald-faced hornets. The new Asian hornets that have been found in Washington state may be deadly to honeybees, but bug experts say the Asian giant hornet is not a big threat to people. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, Pool)A dead Asian giant hornet sent from Japan is held on a pin by Sven Spichiger, an entomologist with the Washington State Department of Agriculture, Monday, May 4, 2020, in Olympia, Wash. The insect, which has been found in Washington state, is the world’s largest hornet, and has been dubbed the “Murder Hornet” in reference to its appetite for honey bees, and a sting that can be fatal to some people. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)BELLINGHAM, WA – JULY 29:Jenni Cena, pest biologist and trapping supervisor from the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA), sets a trap designed to catch Asian Giant Hornets, also known as murder hornets, on July 29, 2020 in Bellingham, Washington. The traps consist of a bottle containing a mixture of orange juice and rice cooking wine. They are checked once a week. Asian giant hornets attack and destroy honeybee hives. Once established, its feared the Asian Giant Hornet could have negative impacts on the environment, economy, and public health of Washington State. The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) currently has 442 traps throughout the state. To date, five Asian Giant Hornets have been found in Washington state, all by public citizens in Whatcom County. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)An Asian giant hornet, dubbed the “murder hornet”, which was trapped in Birch Bay, Washington on July 14 by Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) researchers, is seen in Olympia, Washington, U.S. July 29, 2020.WSDA/Chris Looney/Handout via REUTERS.THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.In this Oct. 7, 2020, photo provided by the Washington State Department of Agriculture, a live Asian giant hornet with a tracking device affixed to it sits on an apple in a tree where it was placed, near Blaine, Wash. Washington state officials say they were again unsuccessful at live-tracking an Asian giant hornet while trying to find and destroy a nest of the so-called murder hornets. The Washington State Department of Agriculture said Monday, Oct. 12, 2020, that an entomologist used dental floss to tie a tracking device on a female hornet, only to lose signs of her when she went into the forest. (Karla Salp/Washington State Department of Agriculture via AP)Washington State Department of Agriculture entomologist Chris Looney displays a suit bought for the department specifically to wear when investigating a possible Asian giant hornet nest, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. The new Asian hornets that have been found in Washington state may be deadly to honeybees, but bug experts say the Asian giant hornet is not a big threat to people. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, Pool)Up Next

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The real threat from Asian giant hornets — which are 2 inches (5 centimeters) long — is their devastating attacks on honeybees, which are already under siege from problems like mites, diseases, pesticides and loss of food.

The invasive insect is normally found in China, Japan, Thailand, South Korea, Vietnam and other Asian countries. Washington state and the Canadian province of British Columbia are the only places the hornets have been found on the continent.

The nest was found after the state Agriculture Department trapped some hornets this week and used dental floss to attach radio trackers to some of them.

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