The Slatest

The Murder Hornets Are About to Start Murdering

A pest biologist traps a murder hornet in a jar outside right next to a tree.
A biologist from the Washington State Department of Agriculture sets a trap designed to catch murder hornets in Bellingham, Washington, in July. Karen Ducey/Getty Images

Just like the coronavirus, murder hornets sure haven’t gone away. And they are about to start their “slaughter phase” if their nests aren’t located and destroyed in time.

Murder hornets, also known as Asian giant hornets, first appeared in British Columbia—most likely through an aircraft or shipping container from East Asia—last year before making their way to Washington state. The ferocious creatures can grow to 2 inches long—five times the size of a honeybee. In their looming slaughter phase, they are known to destroy entire beehives and decapitate their bees all within a few hours, threatening crops that rely on pollination. Though not generally a threat to humans, the hornets kill about 50 people in Japan yearly, mostly from allergic reactions.

Murder hornets have been spotted six times in Washington state over the past two weeks, bringing the total number of sightings or captures in the U.S. to 12. On Sept. 21, a family in Whatcom County, Washington, found the first hornet in a paper wasp nest in their home, then deployed a citizen trap where they caught a second and third. The fourth hornet was found dead in a streetlamp by a Washington State Department of Agriculture spokesperson. The fifth was photographed by a doorbell camera, and the sixth was found dead on a porch.

A dead murder hornet placed right next to a U.S. quarter.
A murder hornet. Karen Ducey/Getty Images

The WSDA has been frantically searching for the hornets’ nest, as they’re extremely dangerous to the honeybee population and hundreds of blueberry and raspberry crops throughout the state. But none of the attempts to track the vicious creatures have been successful. On Sept. 30, agricultural officials trapped a live hornet but failed to glue a tracker to it after the glue got on its wings. They’ve also tried putting cameras on tiny insects, such as beetles, allowing a bug’s-eye view to potentially track the hornets and their nest. WSDA has been encouraging local residents to report their findings of the hornets with their “Track! Don’t whack!” campaign. “We want to take out the nest so we don’t have more next year,” WSDA entomologist Sven-Erik Spichiger said in a press conference.

Although they’ve only been seen in Washington so far, distance isn’t too much of a barrier for these creatures if their nest isn’t destroyed in time. “It’s easy for some species to get moved accidentally from one side of the country to the other, even if there’s a large swathe of unacceptable habitat in between,” WSDA agricultural scientist Chris Looney said.