These are the Asian giant hornets, or “killer hornets,” that landed in the United States. for the first time on the west coast in late 2019.
These insects threaten the already dwindling honey bee populations, which play an essential role in the country’s agriculture.
The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA), the region where the hornets were detected, will try to eradicate them before they kill the bees or attack a human.
Will they succeed? Before we know it, we tell you why these bugs are so dangerous.
“Like monster cartoons”
The Asian giant hornet originate in East and Southeast Asia and are “surprisingly large” said Todd Murray, a scientist at Washington State University (WSU) and invasive species specialist.
Queen hornets of this species can grow to five centimeters long or almost the size of a matchbox.
They have large orange-yellow heads with powerful claws, prominent black eyes, and a striped black and yellow abdomen.
Although they also feed on plant and fruit sap, these hornets hover and, with their claws, decapitate honey bees and take away the bodies to feed their young.
Hornets can destroy a honeycomb in a matter of hours.
Although hives are their primary target, hornets can attack humans if they feel threatened.
They can be deadly to someone if they get multiple bites.
“A sting is unlikely to cause serious problems for most people (unless they are allergic), but multiple stings can trigger organ failure and cause death in rare cases, given the toxic nature of the poison and the fact that they can sting repeatedly, “the WSDA told BBC Mundo.
According to a case report published in the journal Clinical Toxicology in 2006, it is estimated that this hornet kills between 30 and 50 people each year in Japan, although the WSDA stated that it has not been able to independently verify this statistic.
WSU is not sure how or when the hornets first arrived in North America.
“Often insects are carried in cargo in international trade, sometimes deliberately,” the WSU said in its April statement.
The hornets made their first appearance on North American soil in August 2019 in British Columbia, Canada.
In December 2019, the insects were reported twice south of the border, in the state of Washington, USA.
Since then, no further sightings have been reported, the WSDA told BBC Mundo. But that does not mean they have disappeared.
“The queens hibernate in winter and don’t leave home during that time, normally. Now [spring] is the time of year that we think they will start to come out and establish new colonies,” the WSDA noted.
Once they build their habitats in the summer and fall, the worker hornets go out looking for food.
“The main season to catch the worker hornets should really start in July. Our plan is to catch the living workers, trace them back to their colonies and eradicate the colonies,” said the WSDA.
Populations of honey bees and other pollinators were already declining in the United States.
Between 1947 and 2017, the number of bee colonies in the U.S. it plummeted from 6 million to 2.5 million.
Last year, researchers from the University of Maryland reported that 40% of the country’s honey bee colonies died between October 2018 and April 2019, the largest such loss in such a short time.
Pollinators, often honey bees, are responsible for one out of every three bites of food eaten in the U.S., and they increase the value of the country’s national crops each year by more than $15 billion, according to the Department of US Agriculture.