The Washington State Department of Agriculture discovered what is believed to be the first-ever Asian giant hornet nest in the United States, CNN reported. The home of the so-called "murder hornet" — or Vespa mandarinia — was discovered in the town of Blaine in a tree located on private property.
The species was first spotted in Washington state in December 2019. The hornets are the world's largest of their kind, and they feed on other insects, including honey bees. Just one small group of the insects is capable of killing an entire honey bee hive in a matter of hours.
Per CNN, the WSDA has been tracking sightings of the unique hornets and setting up traps to destroy any potential nests. The recently discovered nest is set to be destroyed, and the tree will subsequently be removed from the property.
The government agency released a press release addressing the finding.
"The successful detection of a nest comes after a WSDA trapper collected two live Asian giant hornets on Oct. 21, caught in a new type of trap the agency had placed in the area. Two more hornets, also living, were found in another trap the morning of Oct. 22 when WSDA staff arrived in the area to tag the previously trapped hornets with radio trackers and follow one back to its nest."
The news came just days after a team of scientists lost track of an Asian hornet they were tracking, NPR reported. After capturing and fitting a tracking device on the insect, they lost the trail.
"It actually flies a lot faster than we can run through 10-foot-high blackberry hedges, so it out-flew us," said Sven-Erik Spichiger, the agency's chief entomologist.
Murder hornets pose a particular threat to honeybees, which are already facing threats from climate change, pesticides, and habitat loss. Given that these bees are crucial for the human food supply, researchers are working to control the spread of the murder hornets, which received their colloquial name due to their ability to mass-decapitate honeybee colonies. As The Inquisitr reported, the insects use their mandibles to rip the heads from their prey and return the thoraxes to their hives as food for their young.
Per NPR, the race to track and destroy the nests is also time-sensitive due to the fast-approaching winter hibernation period, when they will burrow underground and reproduce.
Chris Looney, an entomologist at the WSDA, claims that if the murder hornet population can't be controlled in the next couple of years, it will likely spiral beyond control.