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

The Guardian

It took Moufida and John Holubeshen just a day of tracing alleged sightings and studying map coordinates before the two amateur detectives found their target.

“We did the whole CSI thing,” says Moufida. “Plotting points and drawing lines, searching for where the middle of the circle – the nest – would be.”

The couple, like hundreds of other beekeepers in western Canada and the US, were hunting the Asian giant hornet, an invasive species whose stealthy advance throughout British Columbia and Washington state is causing growing unease.

Scientists and apiarists fear that, if permitted to spread unchecked, the hornets, which feast on honeybee larvae, could have disastrous consequences for tens of thousands of hives.

The couple’s investigation began last September, when word spread that hornets had been spotted on the outskirts of the city of Nanaimo where they live. Concerned for the safety of their four hives, they set out one evening towards the suspected nest location in a city park.

As they walked along the trail, they heard a low, rumbling buzz overhead. Moments later John felt a sharp pain in his chest. He had just become one of the first people to be stung by a giant hornet in North America.

“It was like being hit by a two-by-four,” he says. “It felt more like a bruised rib than a sting.”

They fled the scene – but soon realised they would have to return. “My first thought was I’ve got to go back and get a sample or a photo because nobody’s going to believe us,” he says. “It just seemed so surreal.”

As the hornet continues to spread into the Pacific northwest, government officials and local beekeepers have swapped tending hives for sleuthing: experimenting with homemade contraptions and deploying sophisticated electronics to trace the hornet’s spread – and hoping to save hundreds of thousands of honeybees in the process.

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