The Buzz of Washington: Northern Giant Hornets

Lefty Graves
Northern Giant HornetPhoto byMax MuselmannonUnsplash

Washington State is all a buzz about the Northern Giant Hornets, also known as Murder Hornets. These hornets are known to attack and destroy honey bee hives. It only takes a few hornets to be destructive. They kill the entire hives by decapitating the bees that reside there.

What do the Northern Giant Hornets Look Like?

The Northern giant hornets have a yellow and black pattern on their body. They have translucent yellow wings and pack a powerful sting. They hunt primarily for spiders and insects and feed their young chewed-up insects and wasp eggs. They build their nests out of a paper-type material that is comprised of wood and other plant materials. The nests are nestled in trees or in between rocks, or underneath decks.

Then, the hornets take over the hive and raise their own young in the hive. They will also attack other insects; however, they haven’t been known to destroy those hives like they do the bee hives. With a negative impact on the environment, public, and economic health of Washington State.

The Murder Hornet (Vespa mandarinia) is the largest hornet species in the world. Their stinger is longer than that of regular honey bees. They can also sting repeatedly with a venom more toxic than that of a bee. If you’re allergic, you could anticipate a serious reaction.

The venom isn’t the same as other stinging insects. Due to the larger size, even a beekeeper's suit isn’t sufficient to protect from stings. The sting can damage tissue and cause a large amount of pain. Those who are allergic should use extreme caution if they see these Northern Giant Hornets. Avoid approaching these hornets if allergic.

While these hornets aren’t typically aggressive toward humans, great care should be taken if approaching them. They won’t hesitate to defend their nest area and won’t take kindly to anyone attempting to handle them. While mass hornet attacks are rare, they occur occasionally and can cripple or even kill someone.

In December of 2019, the Washington State Department of Agriculture received and verified two reports of the hornets near Blaine, Washington, which borders Canada. This was the first sighting in the United States. Canada also discovered the hornets in British Columbia the same year.

In 2020 and in 2021, both Canada and Washington confirmed new sightings of the hornets. Since that time, WSDA located and eradicated the Northern Giant Hornets Nests that were located in Whatcom County.

By 2022, no hornets were detected. However, WSDA is still keeping an eye out for the insect to ensure the safety of the region.

How can we protect ourselves from these hornets?

It’s important to protect yourself if you’re hiking or walking in wooded areas where these hornets may nest. Even though there haven’t been any sightings recently, it’s still wise to be proactive.

Avoid wearing fragrant perfumes, colognes, hair care products, or lotions. Remember to keep food and beverages covered when dining outdoors. Make sure to dispose of food scraps and garbage properly. Hornets are especially attracted to spoiling fruit and animal feces.

If feeding hummingbirds, protect the feeders from accessing the hummingbird food. Use wasp or hornet guards on the feeders.

What to do if you encounter Northern Giant Hornets

If you encounter northern giant hornets, calmly and slowly leave the area. Avoid swatting, as this may encourage them to sting. If encountering several, dive into dense bush or water, or run as fast as possible to safety to prevent you from being attacked. Should a hornet enter your vehicle, stop your car as quickly and safely as possible and open your windows.

If you get stung, wash the area thoroughly with soap and water. Ice the area to slow the venom spread. There won’t be a stinger to remove. Seek medical attention if you’re stung more than once or have any signs of an allergic reaction.

© Lefty Graves. 2023 All Rights Reserved.

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Lefty has been writing online since 2000 on various topics, including youth mentoring, addiction recovery, parenting, gardening, advocating for seniors, sustainability, farming, and an eclectic mix of other topics. She writes about all things Washington. She resides on a farm with her family in Northeastern Washington State.

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