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The world’s largest hornet, a 2-inch killer dubbed the “Murder Hornet” with an appetite for honey bees, has been found in Washington state, where entomologists were making plans to wipe it out.
The giant Asian insect, with a sting that could be fatal to some humans, is just now starting to emerge from winter hibernation.
The hornet was sighted for the first time in the U.S. last December, when the state Department of Agriculture verified two reports near Blaine, Washington, close to the Canadian border. It also received two probable, but unconfirmed reports from sites in Custer, Washington, south of Blaine.
The hornet can sting through most beekeeper suits, deliver nearly seven times the amount of venom as a honey bee, and sting multiple times, the department said, adding that it ordered special reinforced suits from China.
The university said it isn’t known how or where the hornets arrived in North America. It normally lives in the forests and low mountains of eastern and southeast Asia and feeds on large insects, including wasps and bees. It was dubbed the “Murder Hornet” in Japan, where it is known to kill people.
The hornet’s life cycle begins in April, when queens emerge from hibernation, feed on plant sap and fruit, and look for underground dens to build their nests.
Hornets are most destructive in the late summer and early fall. Like a marauding army, they attack honey bee hives, killing adult bees and devouring larvae and pupae, WSU said.
Their stings are big and painful, with a potent neurotoxin. Multiple stings can kill humans, even if they are not allergic, the university said.
Farmers depend on honey bees to pollinate many important northwest crops such as apples, blueberries and cherries.
An invasive species can dramatically change growing conditions, according to todd Murray, a Washington State University Extension entomologist and invasive species specialist. Murray said now is the time to deal with the predators.
The Washington state Department of Agriculture will begin trapping for giant hornet queens this spring.
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In This: Asian Giant Hornet
The Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia), including the former subspecies known as the Japanese giant hornet (V. m. japonica) is the world’s largest hornet.