Trapped Asian giant hornets are seen in a container in this photo by the Washington State Department of Agriculture.
Trapped Asian giant hornets are seen in a container in this photo by the Washington State Department of Agriculture.

Scientists in Washington State say Asian giant hornets have been spotted in that state, the first time anywhere in the U.S.

Researchers at Washington State University (WSU) say Asian giant hornets, Vespa mandarinia, are more than five centimeters long and the world's largest hornets.  They have with a sting that can kill humans if stung multiple times, earning their nickname, murder hornets.

Beekeepers have reported piles of dead bees with their heads ripped off, an alarming sight in a country with a rapidly declining bee population.

WSU entomologist and beekeeper Susan Cobey said the bees are like “something out of a monster cartoon,” with a large yellow orange face. She said the bees were first discovered in December and she and her fellow scientists are worried the insects will begin to emerge this Spring.

The researchers are working with the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA), beekeepers and citizens to find the hornets, study them and stop their spread.

It is not known how or where the hornet first arrived in North America, possibly in international cargo shipments, or perhaps brought here deliberately.

They live in dens in the ground, from forests and low mountains of eastern and southeast Asia, and feed on large insects, including native wasps and bees. In Japan, it has devastated European honeybees, which have no effective defense.

While they are not usually aggressive towards humans, Cobey says they can be if provoked. Their stings are big and painful, with a potent neurotoxin.