‘Murder hornets’ make their way to Washington state

VIDEO: 'Murder hornets' have made their way to Washington state

Just when you thought 2020 couldn't get any worse, a new type of insect is threatening lives.

It looks like something out of a horror movie with a name to match. The giant insect, known as the "murder hornet," has a sting strong enough to kill a human.

Now the Asian giant hornet has entered the United States and is making a new home in Washington state.

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KIRO 7’s Ryan Simms got to hold hornet specimens sent to Washington state from Japan. The public will now have an idea of what to look for.

KIRO 7 reporter Ryan Simms is holding hornet specimens sent to Washington state from Japan.
KIRO 7 reporter Ryan Simms is holding hornet specimens sent to Washington state from Japan.

KIRO 7 was with Washington State Department of Agriculture entomologist Dr. Chris Looney as he checked hornet traps Thursday near Blaine in Whatcom County. Ryan Simms spoke Looney about the hunt for these hornets.

Looney has been checking experimental traps that he put up two weeks ago. They have been checked once so far this season.

Those traps contain different types of bait in them: An orange juice-rice-cooking wine mixture, another has a kefir milk mixture and others have chemical attractants.

In December 2019, the WSDA received and verified four reports of the invasive species near Blaine and Bellingham. These are the first-ever sightings in the United States. The giant hornets were also discovered in two locations in British Columbia in fall 2019.

The insects are usually 1.5-2 inches in length with large, orange heads, prominent eyes and a black- and yellow-striped abdomen.

Asian giant hornets attack and destroy honeybee hives, experts said. A few hornets can destroy a hive in a matter of hours. The hornets enter a "slaughter phase "in which they kill bees by decapitating them. They then defend the hive as their own, taking the brood to feed their own young.

Understandably, local beekeepers such as Todd Myers said they are worried after hearing that killer hornet has come to Washington. Bee populations have already faced a decline.

"One more stress on top of everything else makes it that much more difficult, and when it's something as scary as a giant hornet? That doesn't help," Myers said.

While the hornets do not generally attack people or pets, they can attack when threatened, according to the Department of Agriculture. Their stinger is longer than that of a honeybee and their venom is more toxic. They can also sting repeatedly.

What makes the hornets even more terrifying is the threat they post to humans. Their sting can deliver nearly seven times the amount of venom as a honeybee, experts said. That's strong enough to kill people, although experts said they rarely attack unprovoked.

In Japan, records show the insects kill up to 50 people a year.

"This can kill you within five to 10 stings. If I get stung 100 times by honeybees? It's not pleasant but I will live," Myers explains.

Researchers think the hornets made their way to the U.S. on an agricultural vessel that likely traveled from Asia. They believe the best way to fight the invasion in Washington is by slowing their spread, which the WSDA is accomplishing by setting up traps in Whatcom, Skagit, San Juan and Island counties.

Anyone who sees an Asian giant hornet is asked to report it so officials can monitor the species.