Tuesday, May 26, 2020
May 26, 2020

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In Our View: Stop invasive hornet species; save fruit industry

The Columbian

No, “Murder Hornets” is not the name of a hot new monster movie. In fact, it’s not the proper name of the Asian giant hornet, an invasive species that has been discovered in Washington.

But at 2 inches long and with a proclivity for wiping out honey bee colonies by biting the heads off adult bees, “murder hornets” seems an appropriate moniker. “It only takes a handful of hornets to kill an entire hive in a couple of hours,” Karla Salp of the state Department of Agriculture told The (Spokane) Spokesman Review.

We know what you are thinking about all the, um, buzz surrounding the hornets: “Aaarrrggghhh!” Or maybe: “Oh, great! That’s just what we need.” In the middle of a coronavirus pandemic, after all, we certainly are not in the mood to have another bee in our bonnet (sorry).

Regardless, two sightings of murder hornets have been confirmed near Blaine in Northwest Washington, close to the Canadian border. That has generated a great deal of attention from national media; few things are as eye-catching as a headline reading, “Murder Hornets!”

And now state officials are looking for volunteers to help locate and trap the hornets. For that, a little training is required. Chris Looney of the Department of Agriculture said: “Don’t try to take them out yourself if you see them. If you get into them, run away, then call us.” Don’t worry; we will.

Multiple stings from the hornets can be fatal to humans, even those not allergic to insect venom, and about 50 people a year die in Japan from Asian giant hornet stings. But with the bees remaining rare in Washington, we don’t need to add them to our list of concerns — yet.

Keeping it that way, experts say, requires quick action. Takatoshi Ueno of Kyushu University in Japan told the New York Times: “When dealing with invasive species, whether a virus or an insect, it’s the same. Moving quickly to completely destroy them is the best. Ultimately, it’s the cheapest and least damaging.”

The Japanese also have another method for dealing with the giant hornets: They eat them. According to the New York Times, grubs are pan-fried or steamed with rice, and adults are “fried on skewers, stinger and all, until the carapace becomes light and crunchy.” In Tokyo, at least 30 restaurants have giant hornets on the menu. As delicacies go, it sounds like the bee’s knees (sorry).

To collect the bees for eating or for use to spice up alcoholic drinks, hunting and rooting out nests is a profession unto itself in some parts of Japan. And lacquered brown hives, “sometimes cut open to expose their complex lattice work,” are popular decorations in homes and offices.

For now, we’ll take their word for it. The hope is that murder hornets, er, Asian giant hornets, do not become so prevalent in these parts that we add them to the menu or the decor. For now, our biggest concern is with protecting normal-sized bees and Washington’s fruit industry. Farmers depend on honeybees to pollinate crops such as apples, blueberries and cherries that are essential to the Washington economy and are more palatable than a skewer of giant hornets.

As Salp, from the Department of Agriculture, said: “We are asking people not to kill things if they aren’t sure what it is. People are killing bumblebees thinking they are Asian giant hornets. We need bumblebees.”

And we need to hope that officials can stop the murder hornet scourge before it really gets started. With the coronavirus pandemic underway, we’re already living through a horror movie.