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Friday, May 14, 2021

Community effort tracking Asian giant hornet continues

Invasive species brings volunteers, beekeepers together to find possible nests across western Washington.

By Sophia Beach

After initial sightings of Asian giant hornet queens in Whatcom County, beekeepers and state entomologists have set traps across western Washington. // Video by Georgia Costa

Amid an already abnormal year, beekeepers in Whatcom County have been faced with additional stress. In-person community meetings have not been an option as the state addresses the presence of the Asian giant hornet. 

The beginning of July marked the start of a 17-week-long commitment made by beekeepers and volunteers to place and register over 1,300 bottle traps across western Washington to catch the Asian giant hornet, said Karla Salp, a representative for the Department of Agriculture. 

To register a trap, use the Map a Trap webpage through the Department of Agriculture’s website. 

The Washington State Department of Agriculture has called this effort citizen scientist trapping on their Asian Giant Hornet Watch Facebook page

Each bottle trap consists of a two-liter bottle with a hole big enough for the hornet to enter and a mixture inside to entice and drown any insects. 

The bottle traps being used are easily put together and their instructions are available online through the Department of Agriculture’s Trapping For Asian Giant Hornets page. Specimens from each trap should be submitted weekly so that state entomologists, people who study insects, can identify them. 

There are two options to report specimens in a trap. The first asks volunteers to mail in their trap’s contents. According to the Department of Agriculture, if there is a bee, wasp or hornet in the trap to rinse the specimens off with water and submit them all. 

The second option is to submit trap contents at available drop-off locations. These will be mailed to the state, according to Salp. To find the nearest of nine locations, look here

In addition to either option, an email to the Department of Agriculture is required. Volunteers must state in the subject line whether there are bees, wasps or hornets in the trap, or if there aren’t any in the trap. Either way, a photo must be included and sent to aghtrapping@agr.wa.gov along with the trap number and date that the trap was changed. 

Daryl Hill, president of the Mt. Baker Beekeepers Association, said he has six bottle traps set up. 

“It’s a mixture of orange juice and rice wine. We’ve found wasps, but haven’t caught any Asian giant hornets,” Hill said. 

While there have been few confirmed sightings, beekeepers say they are still worried about what this hornet is capable of doing. 

Hill said he depends on the effectiveness of these traps as these hornets are in the first stages of expanding into a new territory.

“If I move my hive, I’m just moving the bait for them,” Hill said.

The Asian giant hornet is carnivorous in nature. They kill adult honeybees and take the hive’s brood, their larvae and eggs, back to the hornets nest, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. A typical honeybee colony contains upwards of 40,000 bees as opposed to a colony of Asian giant hornets, which are generally in the thousands due to their large size. The hornets can grow up to 2 inches in length. 

The hornet’s ability to destroy a large number of honeybees could be debilitating to Washington’s agricultural industry. The number of fruits and vegetables will decrease if bees stop pollinating, according to a 2015 home garden series from Washington State University. The bottle traps currently in place are meant to trap potential worker bees. Worker bees are part of the hornet colony and their population increases in late summer. 

Beekeepers originally came together in the spring to search for the hornets. This started when Ruthie Danielsen, a beekeeper of six years from the Birch Bay area, called Sven-Erik Spichiger, an entomologist working for the Department of Agriculture. 

“I asked our president [Daryl Hill] if I could proactively call him to see if we could do something in conjunction with him as beekeepers, and he was thrilled,” Danielsen said. “We worked with him to get volunteer beekeepers to see who would be willing to place sap traps to catch the queens.” 

Michael Jaross, a beekeeper of 15 years and owner of Whatcom Bee Help, said, “Asian giant hornet culture is [similar] to honeybees. Initially there is one queen [in spring] and later in the season there are a few drones which are males. Then, the worker bees, which are infertile females, are in the thousands in every nest.” 

After the queens come out from being dormant all winter, they begin looking for food. Each honeybee hive provides a large concentration of protein, making it ideal for these large insects to attack and eat the honeybee’s eggs. This raised the importance for placing sap traps. 

Jaross said, “No one has actually found a nest yet [in Washington], and it’s the same situation in B.C. They have found a few queen specimens, but they haven’t found any more nests. The nest from last fall was eradicated.” 

Some beekeepers say they have paired their bottle traps with an experimental one that is built to sit outside the honeybee hive and prevent hornets from entering and eating the larvae. 

Jaross said, “One of our beekeeper members, who’s an architect, scaled off the measurements from traps online. Now we have several people building and testing them. What we’re looking at now is if the bees know how to get home with these traps on them.” 

It takes about a week for honeybees to get used to the change, according to trap builder Matthew Waddington’s blog. However, eventually the Asian giant hornet can learn to work around this safeguard. 

Salp said, “Only [set an exterior hive trap] when there is potential for a giant hornet mass attack in your area. That is only going to start really in August or late September. … So don’t put it up before then or you may hinder the movement of your bees.” 

There have only been five confirmed sightings in Washington since the original arrival of the Asian giant hornet in Canada. 

The Department of Agriculture’s traps will keep participants playing a waiting game over the course of the summer. Each week entomologists will review reported sightings and identify each specimen submitted with the hopes of containing this invasive species. 

If a potential Asian giant hornet is spotted, it can be reported to the Department of Agriculture here

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