A tweet from the Washington State Department of Agriculture said it all: “Got ’em.”
After an operation that looked like a cross between a lunar landing and a low-budget sci-fi flick, entomologists on Saturday suctioned away the first “murder hornet” nest found in the United States.
Garbed in bulky protective white suits from head to toe—meant to keep the insects’ long stingers away from their skin and their venom out of their eyes—they descended before dawn on a tree in Blaine.
A few days earlier, entomologists had managed to trap several of the Asian giant hornets and affix tiny radio tracking devices to them with dental floss. One of the trio led the insect hunters right to the nest.
While the fearsome bugs usually nest in the ground, dozens and dozens had made their home inside the cavity of the tree on some property that had been cleared for a new home.
The goal was to capture as many of them as possible. So under the cover of darkness, with red lamps their only light, the moon-suited crew wrapped the trunk in plastic.
Then the ambushed hornets were carefully vacuumed out of the tree and into a plastic cylinder that state officials proudly showed off on social media.
Got ‘em. Vacuumed out several #AsianGiantHornets from a tree cavity near Blaine this morning. Further details will be provided at a press conference on Monday. Staff not available for interviews before then. pic.twitter.com/31kgAUuJd0
— WA St Dept of Agr (@WSDAgov) October 24, 2020
It’s not clear if the entomologists managed to remove all the baby hornets from the tree or if there could be other nests nearby. They are planning a press conference Monday to reveal more about the success of the operation.
Asian giant hornets were first spotted in the United States in December and agriculture officials have been furiously trying to track and eradicate them because they are so destructive.
.@WSDAgov tied a radio tag to an Asian giant hornet, aka #MurderHornet, using dental floss. They followed it into a forest near Blaine, WA before losing signal. But they are one step closer to finding the nest before the hornets enter their "slaughter phase" and kill native bees. pic.twitter.com/QJ6MprmG1s
— Pattrn (@pattrn) October 12, 2020
While humans can die from a large number of stings, they got their very-2020 nickname from their ability to decimate other insects—particularly honeybees. When they attack a hive, they rip the heads off the bees and pulverize their bodies in terrifyingly systematic fashion.
In Asia, honeybees have learned how to fight back: they form a ball around the invaders and vibrate so hard they cook the hornets alive. But American honeybees don’t know that trick, and the fear is that they could be wiped out if the hornets get a foothold on U.S. soil.