Second Giant 'Murder Hornet' Escapes After Being Captured by Scientists in Washington

A live Asian giant hornet is affixed with tracking device using dental floss.
Washington State Department of Agriculture

A second giant murder hornet, described as “feisty” and partial to strawberry jam, that had a tracking device on it as to lead experts to its nest, narrowly escaped into a patch of Himalayan blackberries, last week.

Sven Spichiger, Washington State Department of Agriculture’s managing entomologist, said at a news conference on Monday that dental floss was used to attach the tracking device to the body of an Asian giant hornet, also known as a "murder" hornet, that in the beginning seemed to have “worked like a charm," compared to the glue scientists previously used.

"The chief entomologist was able to tie the tracking device very quickly," he explained. "We were able to move her over to a nearby apple tree."

Before the release, Spichiger noted that he and his team were able to keep the hornet alive during captivity by feeding it strawberry jam that he said, "she seemed to like." 

Spichiger learned from his European counterparts that releasing the hornet a little above the ground may prove more successful. They did just that once the fog lifted and the conditions were pristine, for scientists to properly gauge the direction the hornet would be going in.

“She cleaned herself off, she took off for flight," said Spichiger, who described the murder hornet as a "very durable specimen.'" "She did a spiraling orientation flight, this is what hornets do to reorient themselves to their surroundings, went about 40 feet in the air still going in a spiraling pattern and then rested on a nearby apple tree for about five minutes before taking flight again and then took rest again.”

Things went awry, he explained, when the rest stop the hornet landed on, in this case, a patch of heavy vegetation adjacent to a house far from where they started, prompted scientists to lose the signal. 

“This was pretty scary for us because this area had a lot of Himalayan blackberries and was difficult to operate, at that point, it was lost for the day,” Spichiger said. “We tried to relocate the signal but it was unsuccessful.”

Despite their plans being thwarted, Spichiger remained hopeful.

“We did get an initial direction of the flight. We were able to meet with several of the property owners and get a few more eyewitness accounts of seeing hornets earlier the week before or earlier in the summer, and so we are starting to narrow down exactly where the hornets’ nest is,” he said. 

Spichiger said there are at least two Asian giant hornet nests in Whatcom County in Washington, with a possibility of a third, CNN reported.

Once a nest is located, the plan is to vacuum out the hornets and use carbon dioxide gas to knock out any remaining hornets in the nest, reported the news network.

According to the WSDA , Asian giant hornets, native to Asia, are the world's largest hornets, as they can become up to two inches long. These species do not generally attack people or pets; however, they can attack when threatened. Their stinger is longer than that of a honeybee and is more dangerous than any local bee or wasp and their venom is more toxic. They can also sting repeatedly. 

Asian giant hornets attack and destroy honeybee hives. A few hornets can destroy a hive in a matter of hours, according to the WSDA. The hornets enter a "slaughter phase" where they kill bees by decapitating them. They then defend the hive as their own, taking the brood to feed their own young. They also attack other insects but are not known to destroy entire populations of those insects.

If these hornets become established, they could have a negative impact on the environment, economy and public health of Washington State, said the WSDA.

Since the preliminary reports in 2019, there have been 18 confirmed Asian giant hornets found in Washington, but there have been even more additional sightings, CNN reported.

The WSDA warns the public to use extreme caution near Asian giant hornets. And, if anyone is allergic to a bee or wasp sting should never approach an Asian giant hornet. The WSDA said typical beekeeping protective clothing is not sufficient to protect someone from the hornet’s sting. 

If someone finds an Asian giant hornet, they should not attempt to remove or eradicate it. Instead, report it to the WSDA immediately at hornets@agr.wa.gov or call 1-800-443-6684.

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