'Murder hornets' land in the US for the first time

Asian giant hornet held by a Washington State Department of Agriculture entomologist Image copyrig

'Murder hornets' land in the US for the first time

Asian giant hornet held by a Washington State Department of Agriculture entomologist Image copyright Washington State Dept of Agriculture via Reuters Image caption Asian giant hornets were first spotted in the US last year

Even as the US remains under attack from the coronavirus outbreak, a new terror has arrived: "murder hornets".

The 2-inch (5cm) long Asian giant hornets, Vespa mandarinia, have been found in Washington state.

Multiple stings are deadly to humans and in their "slaughter phase" the hornets destroy honeybees, whose bodies they feed to their young.

Scientists are now on a hunt for the hornets, hoping to eradicate the species before they wipe out US bees.

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Although they typically avoid people, in Asia, "murder hornet" stings are thought to cause as many as 50 human fatalities a year, according to the New York Times.

Image copyright Washington State Dept of Agriculture via Reuters Image caption Asian giant hornets can quickly destroy a hive full of bees

The hornets are "shockingly large", said Todd Murray, a WSU scientist and invasive species specialist. "It's a health hazard, and more importantly, a significant predator of honeybees."

The insects, roughly the size of a matchbox, have large yellow-orange heads, prominent black eyes, and a black and yellow striped abdomen.

"They're like something out of a monster cartoon with this huge yellow-orange face," said Susan Cobey, a bee breeder with WSU entomology department in a press release.

The Asian giant hornet's life cycle begins in April, when queens come out of hibernation, and begin to feed and seek out subterranean dens to build their nests. Once their habitats are built in the summer and autumn months, worker hornets are sent to find food.

With their sharp, spiked mandibles, the hornets decapitate honeybees, using the bodies to feed their young. The hornets can destroy a honeybee hive in a matter of hours.

Image copyright Washington State Dept of Agriculture via Reuters

Though beehives are their primary target, when threatened the hornets can attack people. Multiple stings can kill humans, even those who are not allergic.

In Japan, where they are most common, murder hornets kill roughly 30 to 40 people each year.

"It was like having red-hot thumbtacks being driven into my flesh," Vancouver Island beekeeper Conrad Bérubé told the New York Times. He was stung through a bee suit and sweatpants underneath.

The WSU scientists will begin trapping queen murder hornets this spring, aiming to detect and eradicate the species.

Populations of honeybees and other pollinators in the US were already under pressure. Between 1947 and 2017, number of honeybee colonies in the US plummeted from 6 million to 2.5 million. And last year, researchers from the University of Maryland reported that 40% of the country's honeybee colonies died in a single winter, between October 2018 and April 2019 - the largest loss of its kind.

Pollinators, most often honeybees, are responsible for one of every three bites of food taken in the US, and increase the country's nation crop values every year by more than $15bn (£12bn), according to the US Department of Agriculture.