Crews vacuum invasive 'murder hornets' out of Washington nest

An entomologist displays a canister of Asian giant hornets
Sven Spichiger, Washington State Department of Agriculture managing entomologist, displays a canister of Asian giant hornets vacuumed from a nest in a tree behind him on Saturday in Blaine, Wash.
Elaine Thompson | AP

Updated: 5:25 p.m.

Heavily protected crews in Washington state worked Saturday to destroy the first nest of so-called murder hornets discovered in the United States.

The state Agriculture Department had spent weeks searching, trapping and using dental floss to tie tracking devices to Asian giant hornets, which can deliver painful stings to people and spit venom but are a bigger threat to honeybees that farmers depend on to pollinate crops.

A live Asian giant hornet with a tracking device affixed to it
In this Oct. 7 photo provided by the Washington State Department of Agriculture, a live Asian giant hornet with a tracking device affixed to it sits on an apple in a tree where it was placed near Blaine, Wash. The large insects are also known as "murder hornets."
Karla Salp | Washington State Department of Agriculture via AP

The nest found in the city of Blaine near the Canadian border was about the size of a basketball and contained an estimated 100 to 200 hornets, according to scientists who announced the find Friday.

The plan Saturday was to fill the tree cavity with foam and cover it with plastic wrap to prevent the hornets from escaping, said Sven-Erik Spichiger, an entomologist for the Agriculture Department. Then a tube was inserted to vacuum up the hornets trapped inside, he said.

Crews wearing thick protective suits vacuumed the invasive insects into large canisters. The suits prevented the hornets' 6-millimeter-long stingers from hurting workers, who also wore face shields because the trapped hornets can spit a painful venom into their eyes.

An entomologist walks with a canister of Asian giant hornets
Sven Spichiger, Washington State Department of Agriculture managing entomologist, walks with a canister of Asian giant hornets vacuumed from a nest in a tree behind him on Saturday in Blaine, Wash.
Elaine Thompson | AP

The tree will be cut down to extract newborn hornets and learn if any queens have left the hive already, scientists said. Officials suspect more nests may be in the area and will keep searching. A news briefing was planned Monday on the status of the nest.

Despite their nickname and the hype that has stirred fears in an already bleak year, the world’s largest hornets kill at most a few dozen people a year in Asian countries, and experts say it is probably far less. Meanwhile, hornets, wasps and bees typically found in the United States kill an average of 62 people a year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said.

Workers vacuum a nest of Asian giant hornets from a tree
Washington State Department of Agriculture workers, wearing protective suits and working in pre-dawn darkness illuminated with red lamps, vacuum a nest of Asian giant hornets from a tree on Saturday.
Elaine Thompson | AP

The real threat from Asian giant hornets — which are 2 inches long — is their devastating attacks on honeybees, which are already under siege from problems like mites, diseases, pesticides and loss of food.

The invasive insect is normally found in China, Japan, Thailand, South Korea, Vietnam and other Asian countries. Washington state and the Canadian province of British Columbia are the only places the hornets have been found on the continent.

The nest was found after the state Agriculture Department trapped some hornets this week and used dental floss to attach radio trackers to some of them.

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