In Japan, where Asian giant hornets are native pests, an average of 30-50 people a year die by them, mostly by having the misfortune to stumble, literally, into one of their massive buried hives. Native to temperate and tropical parts of East and Southern Asia, from Japan to India to eastern Russia, the hornets regularly grow to nearly two inches long, with a quarter-inch stinger that can inject a neurotoxin. While a single sting is described as “a hot nail being driven into my leg,” non-allergic victims have died from as few as 20 stings.
The Asian giant hornet, also known as vespa mandarinia, likes low mountains and forests, which is exactly what they’re finding in the Pacific Northwest now.
In September 2019, the Ministry of Agriculture in British Columbia, Canada, confirmed rumors that a nest of the hornets was found and destroyed in the city of Nanaimo, on Vancouver Island. Three months later in December, the Department of Agriculture in Washington State confirmed identification of a dead specimen in Blaine, a small town just on the U.S. side of the border. While only 40 or so miles apart, the two sites are separated by the broad Strait of Georgia, which would be an unlikely transit for any insect. The two were samples were both tested in a lab, and found to be from unrelated colonies, suggesting that two separate introductions of the species have both happened recently.
As of April 2020, the Washington State Department of Agriculture has announced a “full-scale hunt” for the Asian giant hornets, which are thought to pose an immense threat to local pollinators and honey bee populations if they’re allowed to become established in the area, as well as the threat they pose to human beings.
Researchers are putting out thousands of traps as the active season for Asian giant hornets begins, and volunteers are being asked to join the trapping efforts, making home-made juice traps and sending their weekly catch in to WSDA researchers to evaluate. They also encourage everyone to use the Washington Invasive Species app, already used to track such species as butterfly bush and Atlantic salmon, to report any sightings.