Science Alert - After months of searching, in October scientists located and destroyed the first nest of giant 'murder hornets' ever discovered in the US, eradicating a hidden enclave of the invasive insects concealed in a tree in Washington State, close to the Canadian border.
While the discovery and elimination of the nest is considered a victory by state and federal authorities – who are striving to prevent the Asian giant hornet from establishing a foothold in North America – a post-mortem of the hornets' former home provides a sobering perspective on the scale of the bug threat we're up against.
After tracking down the nest with an ingenious radio tag ploy, entomologists from the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) vacuumed dozens of hornets out of the tree in which it was found, then cut the tree open to reveal the nest hidden inside, measuring about 35 centimetres long and 23 centimetres wide (14 by 9 inches).
Inside the nest, the researchers tallied 76 adult queens. Almost all but one of these were likely virgin queens – imminent matriarchs which eventually emerge from the nest, mate, and then leave the area to start a new colony elsewhere after winter has passed.
In addition, 108 capped cells with pupae were found, most of which the entomologists think would also have been virgin queens in development.
In other words, this one single nest – which took months for authorities to track down – contained the seeds of around 200 potential new colonies, if nature were to have had its way and scientists hadn't intervened.
"We got there just in the nick of time," WSDA entomologist Sven-Erik Spichiger told media during a virtual press conference on the developments.
Last week I blogged this in celebratory fashion.
How fuckin foolish of me.
I prematurely ejaculated and began dancing on the murder hornets graves as it finally seemed that American scientists had turned the tables on those little fuckers.
Then this news drops late last night and it was like the scene in Alien when the alien pops out of the guys chest-
We thought we were dealing with a somewhat formidable, but not unstoppable, enemy here when they originally thought there were 2 queens in this nest.
"When you see … a relatively small nest like this able to pump out 200 queens, it does give one a little bit of pause."
Beyond the 200 queens, the researchers found 112 workers, nine drones, 190 larvae, and six unhatched eggs. All up, about 500 hornets were associated with the nest, many of which would have been capable of creating new nests.
Of course, just because this particular nest has been dealt with, it's possible other nests are already in existence, and that insects from this nest may have escaped before and during the eradication.
"We believe there are additional nests," Spichiger said. "There is no way to be certain we got them all."
Even if the stateside presence has been expunged – which is perhaps unlikely – a spate of sightings over the border in British Columbia in recent weeks suggests the hornet may already be dispersed in the region.
In other words, the battle might be over, but the war has just begun – and continued vigilance from authorities and local citizens reporting hornet sightings will be the best chance of winning it. In the meantime, optimism is a virtue.
Like Tommy in The Sandlot, shaking the vacuum dust off, I blame myself mostly. We completely underestimated the murder hornets.
As a big Bee Guy, let me put this lightly for everybody. WE ARE FUCKED.
If one nest is capable of pumping out 200 queens, and those queens then go and start their own colonies, replicating things, it doesn't take a math professor to figure out this thing can and will get quickly out of hand.
Aside from inflicting excruciating pain on humans and animals they sting, these terrible creatures also make it their goal to wipe out regular honey bee populations.
Why is that a big deal?
Watch White Sox Dave, Chief, and my visit to a local Illinois Apiary (bee farm) to learn-
I'll have the latest on this as the story develops. In the meantime, pray for us.