Here's Where 'Murder Hornets' in the U.S. are Being Sighted and What to Expect Next

The planet's largest hornets were recently identified in the United States for the first time, and scientists are working to eliminate the species' present population ahead of its most active season.

So far, only a handful of sightings have been reported in North America: two near Blaine, Washington, last December, and an additional two in nearby British Columbia about one month earlier, according to the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA). However, given that the insects' life cycle begins in April and colonies cause particular damage during the late summer and early fall, experts are working to manage further expansion while there is still time.

"We need to teach people how to recognize and identify this hornet while populations are small, so that we can eradicate it while we still have a chance," said Todd Murray, an entomologist and invasive species specialist at Washington State University, in an article published by the school's news outlet, WSU News, on April 6. He added, "It's a health hazard, and more importantly, a significant predator of honey bees."

Officially known as Asian giant hornets, the insects' U.S. presence raised alarms nationwide after a New York Times report detailing their unprecedented Pacific migration garnered considerable attention on Saturday. Following its publication, the phrase "murder hornets," a colloquial term assigned to the environmental predators by researchers studying Vespa mandarinia, the insect's scientific name, began trending on social media.

The hornets have earned their formal and informal designations due to notable size as well as behavior. Experts say they can measure up to 2 inches in length, more than twice as large as hornet species typically found in North America, though most are slightly smaller. Scientists have not verified the means through which these insects traveled to North America.

Native to forests and mountainous areas of eastern and southeastern Asia, the insects have gained notoriety for destroying beehives and occasionally killing humans. As National Geographic reported, the hornets are responsible for an average of 30 to 50 deaths in Japan every year, and an unusually large 2013 infestation killed more than 40 people in China's Shaanxi Province. Most reports concerning the giant hornet note that their venom is generally only fatal to humans in excessive quantities resulting from multiple stings, though WSDA warned that all individuals should still be cautious in their vicinity in case of unknown allergies.

Giant Hornet
Oversized hornets, known as Asian giant hornets or "murder hornets", were identified in the United States for the first time last December. Scientists say they pose a unique threat to honeybee hives and some danger to humans. JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images

Though the hornet poses the most significant threat to honeybees, WSDA said controlling proliferation of the species is important for a number of reasons.

"If it becomes established, this hornet will have negative impacts on the environment, economy and public health of Washington State," it wrote in a statement.

WSDA's information portal provides resources for anyone who might come into contact with the hornets, urging them to report sightings as soon as possible. WSU News' April 6 report noted that scientists from the WSDA Pest Program have led the effort to locate, trap and exterminate any giant hornets identified, in collaboration with local beekeepers concerned about the future of their hives.