• November 30, 2021

What to Wear When Battling the Venomous Asian Giant Hornet

In the end, no one on the eradication team suffered any injuries, but Looney can’t give a verdict yet on how swarm-proof the suits are, because the insects simply didn’t try it. Normally, an assault on a nest would provoke the hornets to attack en masse. But on Saturday, the temperatures dipped into the thirties, making the bugs sluggish. And the team’s Shop Vac strategy worked well—no hornets even attempted to sting anyone or squirt venom at them.

Still, Looney says, they did run into a mobility issue the moment they stepped up onto the scaffolding. They discovered they couldn’t raise their arms high enough to reach the top of the nest opening, which was about 10 feet off the ground. “They’re very constraining,” he says of the suits. It’s not so much the thickness of the material as the cut. “If they were designed by a high-level tailor, I’m sure they would move better,” he continues. “But I don’t think they were.”

All that foam might have been hard to move in, but at least it kept people cozy during the five-hour eradication mission, says Looney. Except for one place—the attached rubber boots. They were too small for most people to wear thick socks inside them. “We all had very cold toes,” he says.

Those are lessons the team can take with them for the next time they have to suit up. Though the WSDA was successful in capturing this nest, a series of individual insect captures over the past few weeks indicate that there is at least one—or possibly two or three—more nests elsewhere in Whatcom County. The team will continue to put out traps until the end of November, with the hopes of getting lucky. But their window is rapidly closing. By early December, the nests will start to go dormant for the winter; male and worker hornets will die off, and any queens that have mated will disperse and burrow underground to hibernate until spring, when they’ll form new hives.

“Without a specimen to track back through some of the terrain we’re in, it would be very difficult to locate a nest,” Washington State managing entomologist Sven-Erik Spichinger told reporters on Monday. That means the hornet hunt will almost certainly continue into 2021, at least. But Spichinger says the area where they are believed to have spread is small enough that it’s still worth the battle. No one is calling the Asian giant hornet endemic just yet. “Right now, we’re cautiously optimistic that we’re still ahead of this,” he said.

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Photograph: Courtesy of Washington State Department of Agriculture

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