Asian giant hornets have been spotted in the United States for the first time.
Researchers nicknamed the species “murder hornet” because of its venomous sting that can kill a person if stung several times. The two-inch long hornets are also strong enough to puncture a beekeeper’s suit.
“They’re like something out of a monster cartoon, with this huge yellow-orange face,” Susan Cobey, a bee breeder at the Washington State University’s (WSU) Department of Entomology, said.
Beekeepers have reported piles of dead bees with their heads ripped off, an alarming sight in a country with a rapidly declining bee population.
Murder hornets target hives of honeybees, according to the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA).
WSDA said that a few hornets can destroy a hive in a matter of hours and kill bees by decapitating them.
While it is still not clear how the giant hornets have ended up in the US, a WSU scientist suspects that they may have been transported in international cargo.
Scientists at the WSDA have since embarked on a full-scale hunt for the Asian hornets. State officials have also set up traps and launched an app to quickly report sightings.
“This is our window to keep it from establishing. If we can’t do it in the next couple of years, it probably can’t be done,” Chris Looney, an entomologist at the WSDA, said.