PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Entomologists in Washington state could begin relying more heavily on technology in their hunt for Asian giant hornets, also known as murder hornets. 

Washington State Department of Agriculture public engagement specialist Kara Salp confirmed Wednesday that scientists intend to use drones to track hornets through areas that are difficult for people to walk through. She said some entomologists traveled to South Korea to research how Asian giant hornets can be tracked by drones. 

Salp said she does not believe the state has been able to test drone tracking on the insects yet. 

Researchers tied a radio tag to the Asian giant hornet using dental floss and released it on Oct. 7, 2020 near Blaine, Washington (courtesy Washington State Department of Agriculture)

For the last couple years, scientists have been attaching tracking devices to trapped Asian giant hornets and then use the data transmitted from the devices to locate hives. 

The drone could be another way to track them. Salp said it would work similarly to the tracking devices in that the drone would follow a trapped hornet after it is released. 

July 1 marked the start of the Asian giant hornet trapping season. Citizen scientists, or local volunteers, are invited to set traps to help look for hornets throughout the state. 

It’s not often an Asian giant hornet ends up in a trap, but WSDA said even when people don’t catch them, that’s useful information. It can indicate the hornets aren’t flying near the trap. 

One of the experiments WSDA entomologists Sven Spichiger and Chris Looney conducted in South Korea involved placing five traps, the same kind WSDA and citizen scientists have been using for the last two years, to look for hornets. 

The experiment showed that when hornets are around, the traps will catch them. 

FILE – In this Oct. 24, 2020, file photo, a Washington state Department of Agriculture worker holds two of the dozens of Asian giant hornets vacuumed from a tree in Blaine, Wash. When scientists destroyed the first nest of so-called murder hornets found in the U.S. recently, they discovered about 500 live specimens inside in various stages of development. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

“When you run a trap and catch nothing, that is a great result! It suggests that there are no hornets where you live. So, even if you are disappointed that you’ve never caught a hornet, please consider being a citizen scientist again and help us monitor hornet populations in the state,” Salp wrote in a WSDA blog post. 

The WSDA invites more people to join its “adopt a wasp” program to help monitor for Asian giant hornets. People can participate either by building wasp traps or by observing paper wasp nests on their property

Over the last two years, residents of Whatcom county have noticed hornets attacking paper wasp nests. In 2021, WSA noticed an Asian giant hornet repeatedly visiting the same paper wasp nest. 

Asian giant hornets, also known as murder hornets, were first spotted near Blaine, Wash. in December 2019. 

The WSDA has eradicated four Asian giant hornet nests in Washington since they were discovered in 2019. 

Asian giant hornets, which are invasive pests not native to the U.S., prey on other insects like honeybees. A small group of hornets can wipe out a honeybee hive in just hours, which is why WSDA is so determined to remove them from the area.  

In Washington, you can report a suspected Asian giant hornet sighting online or by sending an email to hornets@agr.wa.gov or calling 1.800.443.6684.