Earlier this year, the “murder hornet” became the latest terror to creep into what has been a nightmare of a year. While the buzz has died down since its introduction, there’s new evidence that suggests a potential rapid spread could be coming in the US if the killer-pests aren’t contained.
Researchers from Washington State University published new findings in which they warned that if the world’s largest hornet finds a home in the state of Washington, it could spread down the west coast of the US and potentially around the world.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that the murder hornet could also find a home in other continents of the world including Africa, Australia, Europe, and South American.
“We found many suitable climates in the U.S. and around the globe,” Gengping Zhu, a postdoctoral scholar at Washington State University’s Department of Entomology and lead author of the study, said in a statement.
The spread of the murder hornet depends on whether humans inadvertently transport it, scientists said. The first Asian giant hornet — which can grow up to 2 inches long — was trapped in July, the Washington State Department of Agriculture reported at the time, via NPR.
Scientists are eager to contain the bug due to the damage it can have on other species like North American bee populations, which has been declining rapidly.
Researchers looked at more than 200 records of the insect’s native range in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, before using climate data to predict what its likely habit would be in six continents.
Javier Illan, one of the researchers in the study, called the study’s predictions “scientific sleuthing.”
“We’re making an educated guess on how fast and far these insects can move, their rate of success in establishing a nest, and offering different scenarios, from least bad to worst. No one has done this before for this species,” Ilian said.
Scientists were able to predict that without containment, the giant hornets could spread through Washington and Oregon, and head north through British Columbia. Based on data, researchers said the hornets could migrate up to 68 miles per year, with a worst-case scenario of the insects penetrating the Washington and Oregon region potentially in less than 20 years.
“We know queens come out of their nest in the fall, mate, and fly—somewhere,” said researcher Chris Looney. “But nobody knows how far they fly, or if they fly repeatedly. We don’t know if they set up nests in the spring near where they hibernated, or if they start flying again. These are some of the things that make predicting natural dispersal a challenge.”
Per the report, the Asian giant hornets can thrive in climates with warmer summers, mild winters, and high rainfall. Suitable climates include the west and east coasts of the US, parts of Canada, Europe, northwestern and southeastern South America, central Africa, eastern Austrlaia, and most of New Zealand.
The sting of a murder hornet is said to be more dangerous than local bees and wasps.