Surge of ‘mur­der hor­net’ sight­ings, traps be­ing set

Times Colonist - - Front Page - DAR­RON KLOSTER

A Saanich woman be­lieves she spot­ted an Asian gi­ant hor­net — com­monly re­ferred to as the “mur­der hor­net” — in her back­yard over the week­end, but wasn’t able to kill or capture the in­sect for pos­i­tive iden­ti­fi­ca­tion.

Heather Han­son was en­joy­ing a beau­ti­ful day in her gar­den on Palmer Road when she no­ticed the big hor­net buzzing around her flowers and lawn near her steps.

“I tried to step on it sev­eral times, but it seemed to see or sense me com­ing when­ever I got any­where near it,” Han­son said.

She’s con­vinced it’s the real deal.

“It was very big and the wing span was very large. It’s eyes were on top of its head — noth­ing like I’d ever seen be­fore,” Han­son said. “I saw a pic­ture of [the Asian gi­ant hor­net] the next day. I re­al­ized that’s what it was. I was amazed.”

Han­son said the hor­net was about five cen­time­tres long — “from the tip of my fin­ger to the knuckle” — and the wing­span nearly as wide as her hand.

The Asian gi­ant hor­net (Vespa man­darinia), typ­i­cally found in the forests and low moun­tains of eastern and south­east Asia, is con­sid­ered in­va­sive in B.C. Spec­i­mens and a nest were dis­cov­ered near Nanaimo last Au­gust.

Since then, provin­cial api­cul­tur­ist Paul van Wes­ten­dorp said he’s been in­un­dated with re­ports of sight­ings of the Asian gi­ant hor­net. So far, only a few of the hor­nets have been col­lected and no new nests have been dis­cov­ered.

He said that some of the sight­ings may be “looka­like species,” in­clud­ing the bald faced hor­net, horn­tail wasp, yel­low jacket or elm sawfly.

But there have been con­firmed sight­ings. An Asian gi­ant hor­net was found last November in

White Rock and two spec­i­mens were found in De­cem­ber at Blaine, Wash­ing­ton. In May, an Asian gi­ant hor­net was iden­ti­fied and col­lected near Lan­g­ley.

On Fri­day, Wash­ing­ton state an­nounced it had cap­tured an Asian gi­ant hor­net us­ing a jar trap. It was taken on July 14 near Birth Bay, south of Blaine.

Re­cent cred­i­ble sight­ings in the Cowichan Val­ley have prompted the de­ploy­ing of at least four jar traps con­tain­ing fruit juice and other lures at var­i­ous locations, van Wes­ten­dorp said.

The sight­ings were con­firmed by local bee­keep­ers and a forestry of­fi­cial, van Wes­ten­dorp said.

The hope is to trap Asian gi­ant hor­nets and even­tu­ally de­velop a grid sys­tem that will al­low of­fi­cials “to in­ten­sify trap­ping” and to nar­row the search area for a pos­si­ble nest.

A sim­i­lar grid sys­tem of traps has been set up along the bor­der be­tween White Rock and Blaine, van Wes­ten­dorp said.

“It’s like finding a nee­dle in a haystack.”

Van Wes­ten­dorp said there have been sev­eral calls about sight­ings, but al­most all come in with­out pho­tos or phys­i­cal ev­i­dence. He urges peo­ple to take pho­tos or col­lect a spec­i­men, but to use ex­treme cau­tion.

It re­mains un­clear how the Asian gi­ant hor­net ar­rived in North Amer­ica, but sci­en­tists say it was likely trans­ported here in con­tainer ships.

The species present a dire risk to hon­ey­bee pop­u­la­tions in Bri­tish Columbia, and can de­stroy en­tire hives in a short pe­riod.

A bul­letin from the provin­cial gov­ern­ment says Asian hor­nets are not in­ter­ested in hu­mans, pets and large an­i­mals, adding they hunt in­sects for food.

The “mur­der hor­net” moniker was coined in Ja­pan, where there have been doc­u­mented cases of mul­ti­ple stings caus­ing deaths.

Of­fi­cials say dis­turb­ing a nest — built on or un­der the ground — will put the hor­nets on the at­tack. And a sting packs venom and a mighty wal­lop.

En­to­mol­o­gist Con­rad Bérubé was stung seven times by the gi­ant hor­nets last Au­gust when the first spec­i­mens and nest in B.C. was re­ported. The Nanaimo man told the Times Colonist two stings went through two pairs of pants he was wear­ing and drew blood.

He said the sting felt as though hot thumb­tacks had been stuck into his leg. He ex­pe­ri­enced “throb­bing mus­cu­lar aches” in his legs for about 24 hours.

The Asian gi­ant hor­net has a “no­tice­ably large” orange head and black eyes, according to a provin­cial gov­ern­ment pest re­port.

Worker hor­nets are about 3.5 cen­time­tres long, while queens can be as large as five cen­time­tres. Wingspans range from four to seven cen­time­tres.

If you think you have seen an Asian gi­ant hor­net, sub­mit a photo of the in­sect to bcin­va­sives.ca/re­port, or send it di­rectly to van Wes­ten­dorp at paul.van­wes­t­en­dorp@gov.bc.ca. B.C. res­i­dents can also call the B.C. In­va­sive Species Coun­cil at 1-888-933-3722.

ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

Heather Han­son had an en­counter with a big hor­net in the gar­den at her home on Palmer Road.

B.C. MIN­ISTRY OF AGRI­CUL­TURE

Asian gi­ant hor­nets have no­tice­ably large orange heads and black eyes. Worker hor­nets are about 3.5 cen­time­tres long and queens can be up to 5 cen­time­tres.

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