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Could 'murder hornets' spread across the U.S.? The West Coast could be at risk

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 9/24/2020 Doyle Rice, USA TODAY
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Could the "murder hornet" be coming to your town?

For the first time, scientists have determined how and where the Asian giant hornet, an invasive newcomer to the Pacific Northwest from Asia, could spread and find an ideal habitat, both in the United States and worldwide.

The findings were published this week in a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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“We found many suitable climates in the U.S. and around the globe,” said study lead author Gengping Zhu, a postdoctoral scholar at Washington State University’s department of entomology.

Scarily nicknamed "murder hornets," the Asian giant hornet, the world's largest at 2 inches, can destroy entire hives of honeybees and deliver a painful sting to humans. Farmers in the Northwest depend on those honeybees to pollinate many crops such as apples, blueberries and cherries.

Asian giant hornets are most likely to thrive in places with warm summers, mild winters and high rainfall, according to the study. Extreme heat is lethal, so their most suitable habitats are in regions with a maximum temperature of 102 Fahrenheit.

If the hornet gains a foothold in Washington state, it could eventually spread down much of the West Coast, the study said.

Hornet captured: USA's first male 'murder hornet' captured in Washington state

Washington State University entomologist David Crowder told USA TODAY that "the Asian giant hornet does have the potential for rapid spread throughout the coastal parts of the western United States and British Columbia, and thus widespread and intensive mitigation efforts are completely warranted.

“Preventing the establishment and spread of Asian giant hornet in western North America is critical for protecting bees and beekeepers,” Crowder said.

The hornet could spread either naturally or through accidental human transport. 

Fortunately, the bug is unlikely to spread east across the nation: "It is highly unlikely that the hornets could make their way across the entire country," Crowder said. "Much of the habitat in the central United states (east of Washington and west of the Mississippi River) is completely unsuitable habitat for the hornets, as it is too hot and has too low rainfall. 

"Thus, unless they are moved by humans, it would be nearly impossible for the hornets to make their way across the country on their own. Human-transport of the Asian giant hornet is also rare, so we don’t think other parts of the country need to be concerned right now," he said. 

The invasive insect was first documented in Washington late last year. Officials have said it's not known how the insect arrived in North America. It normally lives in the forests and low mountains of eastern and southeast Asia.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Could 'murder hornets' spread across the U.S.? The West Coast could be at risk

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