Asian hornets found in Pacific Northwest, Canada

Jane Stebbins
Special to the Leader
Posted 5/20/20

As if honeybees didn’t have it hard enough, a new invasive insect is out to chop off their heads and feed the bodies to their young in preparation to crown a new queen next year.

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Asian hornets found in Pacific Northwest, Canada

Posted

As if honeybees didn’t have it hard enough, a new invasive insect is out to chop off their heads and feed the bodies to their young in preparation to crown a new queen next year.

The Asian giant hornet — sometimes called the killer hornet — debuted in Northwest Washington last fall, alarming entomologists and prompting Washington State University scientists to ask citizens to help trap the bug to determine its travel patterns, eliminate in-ground dens and prevent them from getting a toehold here.

The insect has not yet been discovered anywhere south of Bellingham—and scientists want to keep it that way.

The first hornet was discovered by a beekeeper in Blaine, who noticed a pile of bee heads at the base of a hive last November. A second insect was found in Bellingham, and there have been two unconfirmed sightings. Two others have been found in White Rock and Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

How they got here is one of many unknowns.

The search for the hives continues, and WSU researchers are asking for help.

“All the people who reached out to us, it was because something they didn’t recognize,” said Chris Looney, an entomologist with the state Department of Agriculture who spoke to the Washington Invasive Species Council in February. “They found something — ‘What’s this enormous thing on my doorstep?’ Lots and lots of exotic pests are detected that way. We discover as much that way as we do our surveys.”

In the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic, the news hit social media like a swarm of bees, blowing the event out of proportion; two hornets hardly merits an invasion.

 

Bzzzzzzzzz

The hornet is the world’s largest and most ferocious looking, with a 3-inch wingspan similar to that of a dragonfly and teardrop-shaped eyes. The 2-inch-long body features orange and black stripes and its sting is said to feel like a red-hot tack stabbing the body; even protective bee suits are no match for its stinger.

“They’re notorious for attacks on social insects, especially honeybees,” Looney said. “They find one, and at some point, hornets begin to focus on the hive, mark it with pheromones and essentially come in groups and capture every adult bee, kill them and throw them on the ground.

“They literally slaughter all the workers. Then they treat the hive like their own. In this occupation phase, they treat (the hive) like a grocery store; they pull the larvae and pupae and return them to their nest for food. And the bees are woefully ill-equipped to deal with it in single combat. They’re sitting bees.”

What the detritus hornets leave behind can look similar to that left by an invading vole, mice or yellowjacket and might not, at this point, indicate a hornet is in the area.

Some hornets look like the Asian insect, as well, particularly the cicada killer hornet, which is differentiated by its small head and spots and stripes, not merely stripes, on its abdomen.

The hornet is native to Japan, and since monitoring of it began in 1977, the hornets have traveled about 80 miles north in Asia. Washington has a similar temperate climate, making the region an ideal environment in which the hornet could take hold, Looney said.

The bug typically emerges from soil dens — although some winter down in wood piles — in mid-March through late May.

“Large caterpillars, katydids, honey bees; they’re all fair game,” Looney said. “They have a special predilection for honeybees. But honey bees only? Mason bees? Bumble bees? It seems like it’d be a good food source, but the answer is, we just don’t know.”

As the colony matures and approaches its reproductive phase in late summer, the hornets turn their attention to bees. And oftentimes, the hornet kills for the sake of killing.

“They attack,” Looney said. “A couple dozen hornets in one day can kill an entire hive.”

While the two hornets verified in the United States were found near the Canada border, they could travel south, although Looney admitted scientists don’t know how far they will go.

A similar invasive hornet in Europe travels about 20 miles—making it unlikely the Olympic Peninsula would see an infestation any time soon.

They’ll attack people, as well; 40 to 50 people are killed each year in Asia by repeated stings and the poisonous venom that kills skin cells, creating holes in the site of the bite.

“Its size allows it to administer more venom in a single sting than species we’re used to dealing with,” Looney said. “The potential to get stung is pretty high if you’re around them. The hornet can sting you repeatedly and they certainly will. They are not to be trifled with.”

Those with bee allergies can have worse reactions, as well.

“If you encounter these? Run away,” Looney said. “That’s the correct response.”

 

The Pacific Northwest

The two verified insect sightings near Canada last fall were both worker bees, indicating a hive was somewhere nearby.

“Based on a similar species introduced in Europe in 2004, by 2018, all of France, the Iberian Peninsula, Italy, Great Britain (had sightings),” Looney said. “They traveled 60 kilometers a year.”

That travel could have been assisted by humans, if the hornet had gotten into a vehicle or its cargo and been transported, or it could have slowly made its way through the continent.

That is a significant economic factor, Looney noted.

Based on work done in Japan, researchers here believe the hornet will be attracted to the sap in oak, alder and cherry trees.

“We never know if this is going to work,” he admitted. “There’s some evidence it’s been effective in Japan. A more conventional approach might just be to use a lot of traps, use the public. We are also looking at making pheromone traps. We don’t know how effective it’ll be. It’s essentially a random fishing expedition.”

Late summer would be the best time to find the dens, he said, because the hornets haven’t had a chance to reach their reproductive stage.

“In Europe and Asia, they’ve had decent success with radar tags,” he said of small tracking devices typically attached to small birds. “But in Europe, they nest in trees. We don’t know if radar can go through ground or thick brush.”

Once they believe they’re close to a nest, scientists might try thermal imaging to find the hornets, as the insects bring their nest temperatures to about 86 degrees.

“We think it’ll be effective, but we’re not quite sure once they go underground,” Looney said. “We literally don’t know.”

Another option considered was using K9 dogs trained to sniff out bumblebees.

“Absolutely. But, there are no hornet suits for dogs,” Looney said. “It would seem like a real disaster to get an expensive, well-trained dog to get his nose in a nest.”

 

Economic costs

Honeybees are already threatened by global warming and pesticide use.

“This would be one more negative pressure applied to our already stressed honey bee industry,” said Washington State University entomologist and bee scientist Brandon Hopkins. “It would certainly lead to increased annual colony losses and additional work and costs on beekeepers as they work to defend against the threat.”

“Initially, it will indirectly affect crops produced on the west side of the state: blueberries, raspberries, cranberries,” Hopkins said. “Those crops do have the advantage of being pollinated early when the wasp life cycle will make them less of a threat to those colonies.

“After that, vegetable seed pollination for squash and pumpkins require a large number of colonies and because those crops bloom a little later in the season, the hornet numbers will have grown and in turn, pose a greater threat to colonies. There is the potential that beekeepers decide that performing pollination in these areas are not worth the risk and so choose to stay away from those crops, driving up pollination costs or reducing crop yields.”

 

Bzzzz-tt

Currently, researchers are focusing hornet-sighting efforts in Whatcom, San Juan and Skagit counties, but urge anyone who’s interested to participate, Hopkins said.

“We desperately hope it’s not anywhere else,” Looney said. “We’ve only had two confirmed specimens, so we don’t know what the actual range is. They could be on the (Olympic) Peninsula; they could be in lots and lots of places we have no clue they’re in, and the only way we discover them is someone telling us they found them.”

When researchers locate a nest — and no citizen should try to address the situation — they will wait until nightfall, sedate the hornets with carbon dioxide and eradicate them.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is assisting, as well.

“Within a few weeks, they had a thorough, researched document,” Looney said. “They’re reviewing requests for emergency and survey funding. We anticipate the project to last three years. The best case scenario is to destroy and confirm we have no more established in the Pacific Northwest. The worst case … this would go much longer.”

University scientists are asking interested residents in various counties, including Jefferson County, to build and mount traps for the hornet in a 17- or 34-week study period.

“Traps without a sighting is beneficial, but a huge amount of traps will (capture no hornets),” Looney said. “It comes down to how to keep people engaged and not disappointed and sad because their trap is empty.

“And this is our window (of time) to keep it from establishing,” he added. “If we can’t do it in the next couple of years, it probably can’t be done.”

Anyone seeing a live hornet should stay away from it and contact the state Department of Agriculture at 800-443-6684. Pest companies called to eradicate a den are asked to call first, as well. Anyone stung by the hornet, particularly those with bee allergies, should go to their nearest emergency room.

And those interested in setting traps can visit https://agr.wa.gov/departments/insects-pests-and-weeds/insects/hornets/trapping for information about how to proceed.

Comments

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Mike Loriz

I noticed very large hornets entering my beehives last Autumn. At first I thought they were robbing honey, but then noticed the bee parts. The hornets were doing this at around 40 degrees, quite a bit below the temperature at which honeybees can easily fly. One day per hive, and the bees were massacred. I showed my wife what was happening. I'm 57 years old, and have been keeping bees on and off since I was 12. I learned how to deal with Tracheal and Varroa mites, Nosema, CCD, and nearby beekeepers who are learning (or don't care). This was unbearable. One warm day in January I cleaned out the boxes, harvested the honey, and permanently stored the beekeeping stuff. The hornets did not touch the honey, but there was a huge pile of bee parts on the bottom boards. The State said that they consider this a likely incident of the Asian hornet. I was so upset to see what was happen I neglected to take pics. On NextDoor, a few thought this was funny and made jokes. Including one of the moderators. I think I have a decent sense of humor, but I did not find this funny. At all.

I've only lived in PT for fives years. It strikes me as a beautiful place with some of the nicest people I've known. It also strikes me a a place with more seriously screwed up people than I've ever seen, and some of them are in government.

We bought our house labor Day 2014. The previous owned squatted in it, which I thought was odd behavior from someone just given a $540k check. I've learned that this is actually normal PT behavior. I initially asked the Realtors to void the sale, but they convinced me to stick with it. This turned out to be a big mistake. The house was a filthy mess.

We spent almost $200k lifting the house, installing a full foundation, new heating system, solar PV and thermal, and rewired and replumbed about half the house. The job came out, I think, as nicely as I could have hoped. But, it was the most fouled-up construction project I've ever been involved in, and I've been in a few. The worst part of it was, after a shut-in neighbor complained mightily to the City about our (normal) construction noise, the Public Works inspectors played a game with me. As they told me, since the neighbor was complaining so much, I must be a 'problem child' and decided to use me as a passdown tool. And what fun that was. They made clear that I had to maintain the Right of Way EXACTLY as it was. One of my contractors was surprised by that, as he said it was common knowledge that PT was grossly inconsistent with ROW management. (He was absolutely right). They threatened red slips arbitrarily. They added thousands of dollars and a month to the project for simple harassment purposes. The last time I was treated in this way was the first six weeks of AOCS, when our drill instructor worked 24 hours per day making our lives hell, trying to get us to quit. There was a purpose to their madness: it was much cheaper for the Navy to discover those who could not handle stress early, as night carrier landing and other such stuff was also very stressful. Better to avoid wasted training costs. In the PT case, there was no good reason for this irrational hazing. I should have taken those jackasses to court.

The shut-in (the lockdown has not affected her at all!) tried to get me arrested for having a plumber over at 10 am one Saturday, and made it clear she hoped I did not start woodworking in the basement. I was soooo cooked by the house project I decided to not bother setting up a shop. I figured she would call the NSA if I tried to use a hand plane.

Two of the five houses adjacent have been broken into at night. We had a five-car vandalism event. Two stabbings within a few blocks summer of 2018. I picked up my first load of human feces on my sidewalk last summer. The City just closed Adams, making another spot for rough homeless camping and all that goes with it.

I served as jury foreman on a difficult case early this year. Without going into much detail, our hung jury allowed a gent who, it seemed, clearly intended to rape an eight-year old to avoid prison. One of the jurors, who lives a few blocks away, led the charge to let this gent go.

So, before I watch more of this picture show, I'm leaving. Someone else can pick up the feces, pay to get their damaged car fixed, watch people get stabbed, or enjoy having cops shine lights into their house at 3:30 am, looking for home invaders. I'm done.

I'm looking forward to woodworking and beekeeping again.

And, I'm modifying the 'Chicken Church' to a model of PT City Council. On the side will be something like "in this space hens lay lots of eggs". I think Paine would approve.

| Wednesday, May 20
Justeks Hale

Interesting. My husband and I used to walk by what must be your house, early in the morning several years ago. There was quite a bit of noise going on at sunrise in the summertime which is quite early for one's neighbors. It doesn't surprise me some of them may have complained.

Thanks for being a juror. The rule of law isn't always what we'd like it to be, but that's part of the responsibility of being a juror, and a citizen of this republic; which I'm sure you well know being ex military. Semper fi. I was always taught if we don't like the outcomes on certain things in life, then we must get to work changing what caused them. Every once in a while though, we must also consider that perhaps we were wrong? It's my sincere hope that all involved in the case are getting the help they need.

The truth is, PT isn't for everyone. Lots of people move here and then decide to leave because they don't like the culture, the other people who live here, the way the city functions, the acrid smell and hideous stench of the papermill, the particular and peculiar challenges they have to endure, the weather, the parking downtown, and so on, and so forth. Good luck and happy trails wherever you go, and I hope your neighbors are able to enjoy and be at peace with whoever buys your house. That would be a happy ending, all around.

PS-- I'm kind of curious. You seem upset about people living rough and camping out who don't have homes. Did you ever happen to volunteer or give any money to the shelter, the foodbank or OLYCAP while you were here? That might've helped the situation a bit. There are probably going to be homeless people wherever you move to. Things may go better in general if you do what you can to help them out, and also, vote for politicians who fight for things like physical and mental health care for all, a living wage, and affordable housing.

PPS-- Did you know that the honeybees in Japan have figured out how to gang up on the hornets, and kill them? That's pretty amazing, isn't it? Free creatures in the world have a way of taking care of themselves. The honeybees in Japan that aren't being kept in hives, are doing just fine against the hornets. Interesting!!!

| 4 days ago
Mike Loriz

Justeks-

The noise ordinance allows noise from 7 am-7 pm weekdays and 9 am- 7 pm weekends which we adhered to with the exception of one morning, when the Quilcene-based masons started at 0650. She really yelled at them for that. Of course, lifting a 75 ton house and pouring 120 cu. yds. of concrete with 1.5 miles of rebar will make some noise, but that is the cost of maintaining historic houses. If you heard noise at sunrise that might have been another house.

I am a member of Post 26 of the American Legion, which gives (rent-free) use of almost half of our spaces to OlyCAP for shelter for up to 32 homeless. I am proud to be a member of that unit, and I think the shelter is a good thing. Most of the rough camping is done by folks with mental health and/or substance abuse issues. ( A few minutes ago, while talking with a friend outside the house, a woman across the street on Taylor cursed at us loudly and for no reason. Case in point). In 50 years, we as a nation have gone from one end of the spectrum to the other on mental health: we used to over-treat, now we under-treat. Seattle has been spending a few hundreds of millions per year on the homeless issue without much result. Elliot Bay water quality is declining after years of improvement due to RVs dumping up to 1 million gallons per year of raw sewage into storm drains. Here in PT, we are spending very little on the problem and possibly making it worse (by closing Adams, which was also a real slap in the face of retailers, who just lost another 18-20 parking spots in the downtown area).

The Japanese honeybees who have learned to deal with those hornets are Apis Cerranae (sp?), a different bee that our Apis Mellifera. Apis M is what our European ancestors brought along with some fruits and vegetables. They have never dealt with Asin hornets before, and I don't think they will learn to.

Thanks for the good wishes; same to you. I'll be a part time resident. I cannot bear to lose this house after having spent thousands of hours working on it. I hope government here will change for the better, and quickly. I have learned, first hand, many things about it I had not hoped to learn.

| 4 days ago
Mike Loriz

Justeks-

I hope you are having a nice weekend.

The Leader did not discuss Memorial Day at all, and you mentioned 'Semper Fi' in your post, so I thought I might write about a Marine friend who was killed, along with his instructor, in 1987. I was Navy from '84 to '91, but trained with Marines throughout. My birthday is Nov 10, the same as the BD of the Marines, so I always caught some slack from them

I met Mike (the Marine) when I was an instructor in the TA-4, a Viet-Nam era plane the Navy used as an advanced jet trainer students flew just prior to getting wings. Mike was an instructor's dream: he was intelligent, arrived at the brief fully prepared, he flew a really beautiful airplane, and was humble on top of all that. I have been a member of Mensa most of my adult life, and he was much brighter than me. He was also much more attractive than me, but that does not take much. He was a really special person. He could have done anything he wanted to in life.

He was flying an F-18 B ( here is a link to classic F-18s, A,B,C,D. They are fighter bombers that were flown until recently by the Navy and Marines https://fa-18.fandom.com/wiki/FA-18_BUNOs_Wiki) in spring 1987 when they crashed on the East side of the Central Sierras. Their wreckage was not found for a long time. Over a year later hikers found small airplane parts. Commingled remains were sent to Arlington. I was told that investigators figured the plane was spread over 12 square miles. I went through F-18 training behind him and it was sad to see his father trying to come to grips with his son's death at age 15.

Mike was one of a number of folks I lost during my nearly seven years in service. This Memorial Day, if you can find time, please give a thought to Marine Mike and the others. Our oath of office was to serve the lawful orders of those above, as well as the Constitution.

I love my Constitution with every fiber. I fear it is being ignored and lost. Equal protection is a bedrock of the 14th Amendment, and it seems to be completely ignored here. The basic tenet of the Rule of Law also seems missing. I fervently hope that can be rectified.

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