Monique Brewer

Monique Brewer, a chemistry teacher at Whatcom Community College, checks a hornet trap. (Courtesy photo)

WSDA, Whatcom Land Trust monitor Asian giant hornet activity

WHATCOM — Monitoring Asian giant hornets is a massive task, and the Washington State Department of Agriculture is enlisting some help.

In 2020, following the discovery of the first known Asian giant hornet in Whatcom County, the WSDA reached out to Whatcom Land Trust to see if it could place hornet traps on Trust land.

Whatcom Land Trust reached out to all of its conservation easement landowners and volunteers to create a citizen science project.

“We as staff cannot monitor all these traps on 16,000 acres weekly for the next 22 weeks over the entire summer,” said Jennifer Mackey, Whatcom Land Trust stewardship director. “So, we asked, are there ay volunteers or citizen scientists interested in tackling this project?”

Fifty volunteers ended up participating in 2020 to check and maintain about 60 traps. Many of these volunteers work in partnerships so they don’t have to go out every week to check the traps and maintain them.

“That was probably at least half of our volunteers,” Mackey said. “If we weren’t offering up that option, we wouldn’t have had that level of turnout.”

Volunteers like Monique Brewer, a chemistry teacher at Whatcom Community College, received instructions from the WSDA regarding how to check the traps and replace the bait on a weekly basis throughout the summer.

Brewer said she loves volunteering with Whatcom Land Trust, and she already spends a great deal of time on Land Trust properties.

“I go to all of their properties,” Brewer said. “I think I spend more time on their properties that anyone. I talk to people about trails, clean up and spend time on the properties, just on a weekly basis. I’m uniquely equipped.”

Brewer said she used to only maintain hornet traps on one specific property, but Mackey recognized her unique talents as a rover. Last year, she maintained 21 traps, but they were far easier to access. This year, she handles nine, but they’re a bit more far-flung. One is a mile and a half round trip, Brewer said. She maintains traps in the east county near Acme this year.

“What I do is I go to the properties. I get my supply of orange juice and rice wine vinegar ready in advance. It’s a one-to-one ratio. I walk to the trap, take it down, take pictures of the contents, dump it out, rinse it out, refill it, I hang it back up and I go on my merry way.”

Mackey said there are 50 traps on Whatcom Land Trust land last year with 40 volunteers maintaining them. This year, there are a little over 25 traps and almost 30 volunteers. The lowered number of traps is due to the WSDA’s ability to narrow down the places where Asian giant hornets are most likely to be. For example, it’s not very likely that an Asian giant hornet will be trapped in the farther-east parts of Whatcom County.

According to the WSDA, the Asian giant hornet is the world’s largest species of hornet. In December 2019, the WSDA verified two reports of Asian giant hornets near Blaine, the first-ever sighting in the United States. Canada found two of these hornets in two different locations in British Columbia in the fall of 2019.

In 2020, Washington and Canada recorded new confirmed sightings, and in October 2020, the WSDA conducted the first-ever eradication of an Asian giant hornet nest in the United States.

Asian giant hornets are known to attack and destroy honeybee hives, and it only takes a few hours for a small number of hornets to completely destroy a hive. According to WSDA, the hornets enter a “slaughter phase” in which they decapitate bees to kill them. Then, the beehive becomes their own, and they use the honeybee brood left over to feed their own young.

Asian giant hornets are not known to generally attack pets, the WSDA stipulates, but they may attack when threatened. Their stinger is longer than a honeybee’s, and their venom is more toxic. Asian giant hornets can also sting repeatedly.

Mackey said Whatcom Land Trust’s citizen scientists are crucial to the operation of monitoring Asian giant hornet activity in the county. None of their traps have yielded any hornets so far, but that’s very good news, she said.

“They’re amazing partners,” Mackey said. “The WSDA can’t do it alone, we don’t do its lone and volunteers can’t do it alone. We’re working to stop Asian giant hornets while we can.”