The Washington State Department of Agriculture announced Thursday evening that it received a "concerning" report about a live, suspected Asian Giant Hornet — commonly known as "Murder Hornets" — that was spotted nowhere near the four known nests in Whatcom County.
"Concerning because of the location, which is much further east than any confirmed sighting," a Sept. 16 Department of Agriculture Facebook post stated. "While we cannot positively ID this image as AGH, the size, colors, and shape are consistent with AGH."
According to a map that was included in the post, the sighting was approximately four miles south of Sumas and east of South Pass Road in the foothills near Sumas Mountain.
The post included a photo of the possible Asian Giant Hornet, which appears to be taken from inside a vehicle along a dirt road in a rural area.
"If you live or recreate anywhere near this area, keep your eyes open and your phone handy to snap a pic and report any additional sightings to us at agr.wa.gov/hornets," the post stated.
The four nests that have been located in Whatcom County — three this year and one last year — were all in rural areas much further west, within a mile of the Canadian border and just east of Blaine. They are the only Asian Giant Hornet nests that have been located in the United States to this point, though another nest was located and destroyed in 2019 south of Nanaimo, B.C.
And that is why the Friday's post is so concerning.
If it was indeed an Asian Giant Hornet that was spotted, it means the hornets have traveled approximately 20 miles from the four known U.S. nest locations, according to Google maps.
During an Aug. 26 online briefing, Department of Agriculture Managing Entomologist Sven Spichiger said that the average foraging distance an Asian Giant Hornet travels from the nest to forage is between one and two kilometers, with a maxiumum travel distance of up to eight kilometers (five miles). During their reproductive phase, hornets have been known to travel even further, he said.
Whatcom nest destruction
The news of the sighting came on the same day the Department of Agriculture reported that it had to wait until next week to eradicate its third Asian Giant Hornet nest of the season.
"The nest entrance is twentyish feet up in the tree, so we are obtaining special equipment to remove this nest," the Department of Agriculture said in a tweet Thursday, Sept. 16. "Tentative plan is the end of next week."
From pictures, it appears the nest is located in an old knot opening in a tree that is still standing.
A follow-up tweet by the department said it located the nest by catching a live Asian Giant Hornet in a trap, tagging it and tracking it to its nest.
One response asked if Asian Giant Hornets can be "wiped out this season," to which the Department of Agriculture responded, "Very hard to tell."
This is the third nest located in the United States so far this year and the fourth overall — all of which have been in northern Whatcom County the past two years.
Last week, the Department of Agriculture reported eradicating the second nest of the year, but also announced the discovery of the third nest.
Both nests, it said at the time, were located near the first nest, which was eradicated last month, and close to where the first Asian Giant Hornet nest in the U.S. was found last year, just sound of the U.S.-Canada border.
Last week, the Department of Agriculture confirmed two new reports of Asian Giant Hornet sightings by the public in north Whatcom County. Crews tagged and released a live hornet in an attempt to track it back to a potential nest, according to a Department of Agriculture Facebook post, and that is what led them to the discovery of the nest that was eradicated over the weekend.
What are 'Murder Hornets'?
Up to 2 inches long, the Asian giant hornet, or Vespa mandarinia, is the world's largest hornet species. They are identifiable by their large yellow/orange heads. The hornets are known for their painful stings.
They will attack people and pets when threatened, and tried to attack the team eradicating their nest in August, though the team's hornet suits prevented team members from being stung. People should be extremely cautious near them, state agriculture officials have said, and those who have allergic reactions to bee or wasp stings should never approach an Asian Giant Hornet, according to earlier reporting in The Bellingham Herald.
The invasive hornets are feared for the threat they pose to honeybees and, by extension, the valuable crops in Washington state that the bees pollinate, including blueberry and other cane crops in the region that includes Whatcom County.
They also prey on local pollinators such as wasps, posing a threat to the local ecosystem, state entomologists have said.
Before the sightings that led to the discovery of the two nests in Whatcom County this year, a dead Asian Giant Hornet was located near Marysville in mid-June.
The Department of Agriculture will continue to trap Asian giant hornets through the end of November, according to a previous release, adding that instructions on how to build traps can be found on the agency's website.
The Department of Agriculture's annual budget for community outreach, tracking and eradication of the Asian Giant Hornet is approximately $650,000, Spichiger said.
Spot a 'Murder Hornet'?
Washington state residents can report possible sightings of an Asian giant hornet to the state Department of Agriculture online at agr.wa.gov/hornets, via email at email@example.com, or by calling 1-800-443-6684.
Take a photo or keep a specimen if you can. They're needed for confirmation.