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The First 'Murder Hornet' Of 2021 Has Been Discovered In Washington State

Washington State Department of Agriculture entomologist Chris Looney displays a dead Asian giant hornet, a sample sent from Japan and brought in for research last year in Blaine, Wash.
Washington State Department of Agriculture entomologist Chris Looney displays a dead Asian giant hornet, a sample sent from Japan and brought in for research last year in Blaine, Wash.

Murder hornets. They're back.

Authorities in Washington state have announced that they've confirmed the first U.S. report this year of an Asian giant hornet, or Vespa mandarinia, in a town north of Seattle.

"Basically the only information we have is that a slightly dried out, dead specimen was collected off of a lawn in Marysville," said Sven Spichiger, managing entomologist with the state agriculture department, during a press conference.

"There really isn't even enough information to speculate on how it got there or how long it had been there," Spichiger added.

Because of its withered condition and the fact that male giant hornets don't typically emerge until July, agriculture officials believe the hornet discovered in early June was likely from a previous season and just recently found.

So-called "murder hornets" are native to Asia but have been spotted in Washington state and Canada over the past two years. The sting of the Vespa mandarinia can be life-threatening to humans, and the killer insects are known to wipe out the colonies of their fellow bugs, particularly honey bees.

According to genetic testing of the specimen discovered in Washington this month, the dead hornet was not the same as the other giant hornets discovered in North America since 2019. The hornet's coloration, which indicates it came from southern Asia, also suggested it arrived in "probably a separate event" than the ones previously known, Spichiger said.

But he emphasized that that was not necessarily cause for alarm.

"I want to very much clarify that a single dead specimen does not indicate a population," Spichiger said.

Washington agriculture officials are now setting murder hornet traps in the area of the discovery and are encouraging "citizen scientists" to do the same.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.