How Experts Are Dealing With Murder Hornets That Are Taking Over the U.S.

Experts have successfully destroyed a nest of Asian hornets, an invasive species, after tying a tiny tracker on the insect with dental floss. These insects were first spotted in 2019. Previous attempts to track them failed after the glue used to stick the tracker gummed up the wings of the hornet. 

Finally, this time, the tracking method worked! The insect led a team of experts to a nest up in a hollow tree trunk. The team was prepared for the worst and wore protective suits to extract the hornets. Since the weather made the insects docile, the eradication plan was successful. The experts vacuumed the insects from the nest and pumped in carbon dioxide gas to kill them. The tree was later inspected to see if previous nests had hatched.

This eradication effort was urgent as these “murder hornets” were killing thousands of honeybees. Asian giant hornets have thrived in regions that have mild and rainy weather. Regions like the American East Coast may potentially support the living conditions of these insects, but it’s highly unlikely they could fly that far on their own.

Why mapping the insect is important

“We really don’t know anything about how this species spreads. That’s the kind of maddening lack of information that makes responding to this species so challenging,” said Chris Looney, an entomologist. He also stated that research about how fast the hornets can fly and their preference for underground nests are uncharted.

“There is a considerable amount of suitable habitat along the West Coast and our dispersal simulations of how quickly the invasion might spread were surprising to us,” says David Crowder, an entomologist who works at Washington State University.

Simulations of a worst-case scenario showed that around half of both Washington and Oregon offer suitable conditions for habitation. The hornets may reach Oregon on their own in 10 years. In 20 years, the Asian hornets could reach eastern Washington and even farther into British Columbia. Parts of Northern California and northern Idaho may be at risk as well. While a lot of the eastern regions of the United States have suitable habitats, “it is highly unlikely, if not impossible, that the hornet could traverse the continent on its own, given the lack of suitable habitat in much of the central U.S.,” says David Crowder.

The worst-case scenario is rare

Douglas Yanega, an entomologist from the University of California, stated that the research is “telling a more positive story than it’s being made out to be. They’re talking about two decades before [the hornet] will reach the limits of its distribution. That’s a very long time.”

He notes that there’s still time to stop the horrible hornets in the United States. He added, “The actual number of colonies out there is so small that if we can find a few of those colonies, we might be able to completely eradicate them. It doesn’t look like the kind of situation that’s capable of exploding on us, and it certainly hasn’t so far.”