MARYSVILLE — At least one so-called “murder hornet” made its way to Snohomish County.
A resident reported finding the dead Asian giant hornet on a lawn near Marysville on June 4, according to the Washington State Department of Agriculture.
It’s the first one spotted this year, and this far south.
It could also be from last season.
Entomologists retrieved the hornet on June 8. It was a “dry, crispy” male and had different coloring than other specimens, said Sven Spichiger, managing entomologist for the state Department of Agriculture. Like its counterparts, this one had the same signature large orange-yellow head, with its terrifying mandibles. But it didn’t have the same yellow stripes on its abdomen.
Genetic testing showed the hornet was unrelated to those sighted in Whatcom County and British Columbia in 2019 and 2020, Spichiger said at a news conference Wednesday morning.
That means this hornet found its own way to Washington.
But, Spichiger said, “I want to clarify that a single, dead specimen does not indicate a population.”
So far, there’s no evidence of a nest in Snohomish County.
Spichiger said he couldn’t speculate on where the hornet is from or how it got here. When it comes to genetics, there isn’t enough data globally to confidently connect the specimen to an origin.
It’s “absolute pure speculation,” Spichiger said, but one idea is that the hornet was a lone hitchhiker who came to Washington by way of the ports.
“We have no way of knowing, but it is entirely possible for single hornet specimens to get from the other side of the world to Washington, or anywhere else in the United States, because we do have such a vibrant global trade market here,” he said.
Because of the timing and the corpse’s apparent age, scientists believe the hornet was from a previous season. Usually, new male hornets don’t come out until at least July.
“The find is perplexing because it is too early for a male to emerge,” said Dr. Osama El-Lissy, deputy administrator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s plant protection and quarantine program. “Last year, the first males emerged in late July, which was earlier than expected. However, we will work with WSDA to survey the area to verify whether a population exists in Snohomish County.”
Spichiger guessed that the hornet had been in some kind of protected spot, and wasn’t found until it somehow fell onto the lawn.
Asian giant hornets created a sensation last year when they were spotted in Whatcom County and British Columbia. The bug got its “murder hornet” moniker for its aggressive and deadly nature. They attack in groups, can sting multiple times and have powerful venom. According to the state Department of Agriculture, they’re known to destroy honey bee hives, in which they enter a “slaughter phase,” killing the bees by decapitating them.
“If it becomes established, this hornet will have negative impacts on the environment, economy and public health of Washington State,” according to the state Department of Agriculture website.
Spichiger underscored the importance of public reporting.
“None of this would have happened without an alert resident taking the time to snap a photo and submit a report,” he said.
According to the news release, half of the confirmed sightings of the Asian giant hornet in Washington have been by the public.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has provided funding for survey and eradication, as well as research into lures and population genetics, according to El-Lissy. State and federal agencies will continue to monitor the situation.
The state is asking citizen scientists to step up, with makeshift traps they can make at home. All it takes is a bottle, orange juice and rice cooking wine. Or, if you’d rather save that rice cooking wine for cooking, there’s a new cheaper alternative this year: water and brown sugar. Instructions on how to make the traps and participate in the program can be found on the state Department of Agriculture’s website.
Entomologists advise to hold off on trapping until July, when worker hornets will become active.
Spichiger said the state will also be setting out traps in Snohomish County. He called the trapping “exploratory.” Hopefully, no other hornets will be found.
The state Department of Agriculture will be setting about 30 traps in the area and about 100 more will be placed by others working with the agency.
The state is currently finalizing a rules amendment that would add the Asian giant hornet to the list of “quarantined pests.” That would prohibit the species from “being sold, offered for sale, distributed, or knowingly moved throughout or received within Washington.” If an infested site is found, no one may enter the property without authorization until it’s cleared.
The fact that this hornet was unrelated to earlier sightings was surprising to entomologists, but it may not be the last time this happens, said Paul van Westendorp, the provincial apiculturist for the British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries.
“Here on the West Coast, we will continue to be exposed to the incidental introductions of these kinds of species,” he said.
For that, you can thank the ports.
Think you saw a ‘murder hornet’? Want to be a citizen scientist?
Report sightings to the Washington State Department of Agriculture online at agr.wa.gov/hornets, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 1-800-443-6684. Suspected sightings in other areas should be reported to the state or province where the suspected hornet was observed.
For citizen scientists, trapping instructions can be found at https://agr.wa.gov/departments/insects-pests-and-weeds/insects/hornets/trapping.