B.C. and Washington state focus on public outreach to wipe out invasive giant hornet

·2 min read

VICTORIA — Public outreach will be key to tracking Asian giant hornets this year as many of the insects were found by members of the public in 2020, officials in British Columbia and Washington state say.

Also dubbed the murder hornet, the invasive wasps have been found in communities along both sides of the Canada-U.S. border and on Vancouver Island.

Scientists say the hornets, which are about five centimetres long with a seven-centimetre wingspan, can quickly kill adult honeybees in a hive for the honey and larvae inside.

The hornets are normally found in China, Japan, Thailand and other Asian countries.

Paul van Westendorp of the Agriculture Ministry said six of the invasive giant hornets were found in B.C.'s Fraser Valley region last year, and the province will focus on that region as a result.

Van Westendorp said he doesn't anticipate that the hornets will move further east into B.C., as they would have to overcome differing climates to do so.

He said all of the hornets caught in the Fraser Valley last year were found by the public, not through the ministry's traps, which highlights the importance of public outreach.

Half of the confirmed reports of Asian giant hornets in Washington state in 2020 were from members of the public.

The insects can pose a serious danger to human health and well-being, but van Westendorp added that the risk they pose is counteracted by their relative lack of numbers. The hornets, he said, are considered apex predators and as a result there is not that many of them in comparison to other insects.

"This is going to be an ongoing challenge and at this time it will be hard to define success," he said. "We've been genuinely frustrated by not getting enough of these darned hornets in our hands."

Washington's plans are similar to last year’s, including an emphasis on using the public to report the hornets, as well as its own trapping program.

Sven Spichiger, with Washington's Department of Agriculture, said public outreach is important as it protects people from unknowingly interacting with the insects.

He gave an example of finding one nest on a property last year with an outdoor doghouse and a children's play set nearby.

"Having something that could really cause you a really serious world of hurt, unbeknownst to you, living on your property, that is really what puts you in danger," Spichiger said.

Last year, scientists in Whatcom County on the U.S. side of the border found a nest with 500 live specimens at various stages of development, including 200 queens with the potential to start their own nests.

— By Nick Wells in Vancouver.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 17, 2021.

The Canadian Press