First US murder hornet nest located in Washington state

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<span>Photograph: Karla Salp/AP</span>
Photograph: Karla Salp/AP

The first nest containing Asian giant hornets, also known as murder hornets, on US soil has been discovered in Washington state.

State officials have been searching for the nest following half a dozen sightings of the hornets in and around the city of Blaine, which is close to the border with Canada. Officials hoped to find the nest before the hornets entered what is known as a “slaughter phase” where they decimate nearby honeybee colonies.

A video shared by the Washington state department of agriculture showed a murder hornet emerging in slow motion from a crack in a tree.

The nest was found in an undisclosed location in Blaine, although it was not destroyed due to inclement weather. The department of agriculture said its “entomologists have been diligently tracking sightings of the Asian giant hornet in an ongoing effort to find nests to eliminate them”.

Asian giant hornets were first spotted in North America last year, first in British Columbia in Canada, where a nest was found and destroyed, and then across the border into Washington state.

Entomologists have warned the hornets could spread down the west coast into California and, if they are able to hitch a lift on a plane or train, even reach the east coast.

Related: ‘Murder hornets’: race to protect North America's honeybees from giant invader

A group of 30 hornets can decapitate tens of thousands of bees, which are much smaller, in only a few hours.

The insects are known as murder hornets in their native east Asia, where honeybees have developed defenses against gruesome attacks in which workers are decapitated by the hornets with their powerful mandibles and then fed to the attackers’ young.

Japanese honeybees can surround a hornet intruder in the nest, vibrating their bodies as they pile on to the invading hornet, producing heat to in effect cook it alive.

Honeybees have no such defense in North America, however, as they did not co-evolve with the hornets. This has raised concerns among farmers of a mass killing of bees, imperilling crops that require their pollination.