Murder hornet sightings in Washington state prompt search for nest before ‘slaughter phase’

Agricultural officials in Washington state said Friday they are trying to find and destroy a nest of Asian giant hornets – also known as murder hornets – amid concerns they could kill honey bees crucial for pollinating raspberry and blueberry crops.

Evidence of six of the hornets were found over the last week near the town of Blaine in Whatcom County, the Washington state Department of Agriculture told reporters.

The number of hornets found – nearly double the previous number discovered in the state – would indicate a nest has been established in the area, the agency said. One of the hornets was trapped alive, a first for the agency, spokeswoman Karla Salp said.

“We believe we are dealing with a nest,” said Sven-Erik Spichiger, a department entomologist. “We hope to locate the nest in a couple of weeks and eradicate it.”

The Asian giant hornet – the world’s largest at 2 inches (5 centimetres) – can decimate entire hives of honeybees and deliver painful stings to humans. Farmers in the northwestern U.S. depend on those honey bees to pollinate many crops.

The invasive insect found in China, Japan, Thailand, South Korea, Vietnam and other Asian countries was first documented in Washington state late last year. Officials have said it’s not known how it arrived. Washington and the Canadian province of British Columbia are the only places the hornets have been found in North America.

There have been reports from Asia of the hornets stinging people so often they have died.

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