'Perplexing' murder hornet marks first US sighting of the insect in 2021

The murder hornet invasion isn't over, and this particular insect is a mystery.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
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This dried-out male "murder hornet" was found in June 2021 in Washington state.

Washington State Department of Agriculture

The first confirmed report of 2021 of an Asian giant hornet -- a worrisome and invasive species in the US and Canada -- is now in. The large flying insects have earned the nickname "murder hornets" for their venom and the way they devastate bee populations by decapitating the smaller insects.

A resident in Snohomish County discovered the first hornet of 2021 and the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) and US Department of Agriculture (USDA) confirmed it was a male of the species. The condition of the dead, dried-out hornet led to questions about its origin.

"The find is perplexing because it is too early for a male to emerge," said Osama El-Lissy, deputy administrator for the USDA Plant Protection and Quarantine program, in a WSDA statement on Wednesday. In 2020, males began emerging in late July. Entomologist suspect the hornet may be an old one from a previous season.

While the hornets are bad news for bees, they can also be dangerous to humans. The insects have long stingers, can sting multiple times and can be deadly to people. Last year, the WSDA famously located and destroyed a murder hornet nest as part of an effort to eradicate the invaders.

"We'll now be setting traps in the area and encouraging citizen scientists to trap in Snohomish and King counties," said WSDA managing entomologist Sven Spichiger. "None of this would have happened without an alert resident taking the time to snap a photo and submit a report."