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Murder Hornets Invade Pacific Northwest, Threaten The Honeybee Population


As if the pandemic and the economic meltdown aren't bad enough, now The New York Times informs us that murder hornets have arrived in the Pacific Northwest. Officially, the insect is called the Asian giant hornet. They can grow 2 inches long, and they have a habit of decapitating entire colonies of honeybees. They can also cause a lot of pain to humans. Beekeepers and entomologists are racing to find and wipe out any nests in the U.S. before the species can take hold. Ruthie Danielsen is a beekeeper in Birch Bay, Wash., near the border with Canada.

Thanks for joining us today.

RUTHIE DANIELSEN: You're welcome.

SHAPIRO: These hornets are typically found in Asia, but late last year, they were found in Canada and then in Washington state. What was your first reaction when you heard they had arrived in the U.S.?

DANIELSEN: Oh, my first reaction was horror that we have yet another invasive species that is in North America and that they can, you know, attack my hives. My second response would be, what can we do to protect our hives? What can we do as individuals to get involved and do something about it?

SHAPIRO: The reason we're speaking to you now is that there is an effort to find and trap these hornets. I understand you're a part of that effort. Tell us what it involves.

DANIELSEN: Yeah, so we've been working with the Washington State Department of Agriculture, our beekeeping members, to place sap traps to capture the queens. The queens come out from underground. They've overwintering, and first thing they want to go to is sap for carbohydrates.

SHAPIRO: So this is the moment to get them.

DANIELSEN: This is the moment that you get them, when they're out feeding after being underground all winter. And then after they've fed - got a little carb, got a little protein - then they'll go and create another nest. And so one queen in the fall can produce hundreds of new queens for the next year.

SHAPIRO: I mean, what do you think the chances are? Can this invasion be stopped?

DANIELSEN: Well, I'm hopeful. So I'm going to say yes (laughter). If we don't capture any queens, then the next phase will be to see if we can capture any of the workers. Those are different type of traps. They're made with orange juice and rice wine. That's what they use in Japan to trap these creatures. And so we'll be putting out bottle traps in the next phase, which is June, July, August - the summertime.

SHAPIRO: Have you seen one of them?

DANIELSEN: Yeah. The Washington State Department of Agriculture brought one to our meeting to show us the size so that we could - you know, when you're a beekeeper, you understand different insects. We'd never seen anything this big. It's the largest hornet in the world. I mean, it's literally the size of your thumb. I liken it to a small hummingbird. They're really big.

SHAPIRO: How worried are you for the future of your bees and bees in the Pacific Northwest and the United States generally because of this arrival?

DANIELSEN: Well, we're very concerned, as all people in North America should be. It's an invasive species that's come here. It's never been here before. And our bees don't know how to protect themselves or can't protect themselves. But we're the first line of defense. So what you do is you get involved and you try to do something about it.

SHAPIRO: Good luck with your mission. Ruthie Danielsen is a beekeeper in northwest Washington state, where she is working to try to prevent the establishment of Asian giant hornets.

Thank you for talking with us.

DANIELSEN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.