Giant Asian hornets have been spotted for the first time in the United States, says scientists.
According to reports, the hornets (Vespa mandarinia) have been found specifically around the Washington state area.
This large insect is more than 2 inches (over 5cm) long, has a wingspan of approximately 3 inches (7.5 cm) and are the world’s largest hornets with a sting that can kill humans if stung multiple times, according to experts at Washington State University (WSU).
Beekeepers have reported sightings of piles of dead bees with their heads ripped off, shocking to see, especially in a country with a declining bee population.
The invasive behaviour of these insects helped earn them their nickname - “murder hornets”.
"They're like something out of a monster cartoon with this huge yellow-orange face," said Susan Cobey, a bee breeder at the Washington State University's department of entomology.
How did these hornets arrive in the US?
Scientists currently have no clear idea how giant hornets native to Asia ended up in Washington State.
It is possible that they could have been transported via international cargo, according to Seth Truscott with WSU's college of agricultural, human and natural resource sciences.
The giant hornet was first seen in Washington in December, and believe the insect began to re-emerge last month, the time of year when the queens come out from hibernation to build nests and form colonies.
Scientists say that the hornets are at their most aggressive during the summer and early autumn. It is during this time that they are on the hunt for sources of protein in order to raise next year’s queens.
Beehives are their primary target
One of the biggest concerns about these giant hornets is that they attack honeybee hives. They kill the adult bees and steal the bee larvae and pupae.
Populations of honeybees were under pressure before the arrival of the giant hornets. Between 1947 and 2017, the number of honeybee colonies in the US plummeted from 6 million to 2.5 million. Researchers from the University of Maryland reported last year 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.
Although these insects typically avoid people, these insects can attack if they are provoked.
In Asia, "murder hornet" stings are thought to cause as many as 50 human fatalities a year, according to the New York Times.
The sting is big, painful and loaded with a powerful neurotoxin.
Giant hornets are understood to be the biggest threat to bees during the summer and early autumn. State officials set up traps and launched an app to help report sightings quickly, saying just a few giant hornets can devastate a hive within a few hours.
Reference: Washington State Department of Agriculture