CUSTER, Wash. - An eagle-eyed Whatcom County resident has made the first confirmed sighting of an Asian giant hornet in Washington state this year, the state Department of Agriculture reports.
The resident found the dead specimen Wednesday while walking along a roadway near Custer, Wash., about eight miles south of the U.S.-Canada border, and reported it using the Department of Agriculture's hornet watch report form.
On Thursday, 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 Friday.
Preliminary results indicate the Asian giant hornet was a queen, said Washington State Department of Agriculture Managing Entomologist Sven Spichiger.
"What that means is more than likely a nest was able to produce breeding queens and make it through the winter," Spichiger said.
The hornet was found approximately a mile away from the location of a suspected Asian giant hornet bee kill in 2019, agriculture officials said.
"It worries because we don’t know how widespread these nests are and we don’t know how many queens and colonies we’re dealing with. Because if this thing gets out, it’s going to be a perpetual torment against bees and colonies," said beekeeper Ted McFall, whose estimates tens of thousands of his bees were slaughtered.
"I’m not interested in having any more of my hives slaughtered. And I know that’s what’s going to happen unless we’re able to successfully eradicate them," McFall added.
Plans are underway to set traps in the area to find any colony of Asian giant hornets that may be there.
"What the bar would be for knowing we have an established nest is if we start pulling in workers. If we start pulling in workers in the traps, then we’ll have some clue that some colonies have been able to establish," Spichiger said.
"The trapping we do throughout the season is really gonna tell the tale there. So, the more results we can have and the more reports coming in from the public are really going to help to answer that better," he added.
The 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.
State agriculture officials received the first report of an Asian giant hornet last December from a resident near Blaine and later learned of another specimen in the same 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.
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.
To learn more about Asian giant hornets and the state’s trapping and eradication project, visit agr.wa.gov/hornets.