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Experts: Invasive 'Murder Hornet' Poses Threat To Honey Bees, Humans

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — At more than two-inches long, the Asian Giant Hornet is the world's largest, but it's not the insect's size that has people worried.

"It comes straight out of Hollywood in terms of what you think an evil alien might look like," James Nieh, biological science professor at UC San Diego said.

Nieh said the invasive hornet species, nicknamed the murder hornet, originated in Asia and is especially troubling for honey bees.

The hornets hunt for food in bee hives, and can wipe out an entire hive in just a few hours — decapitating the bees in the process — making an infestation devastating for beekeepers. The hornets have already caused millions of dollars in crop damage in France.

"These types of predators are largely generalist, so they are not only looking for honey bees," Nieh said. "They'll be looking for bumblebees or anything else they can catch."

The hornets also pose a threat to humans — their stings deliver nearly seven times more than a honey bee, enough to kill — but researchers say they rarely attack unprovoked.

The insect was first sighted in Washington State in December, and scientists said it likely migrated from Canada, but that begs the question of how the invasive species came to North America in the first place.

"You have queens that hide away over winter, and so they can end up in shipping that is put on boats," Boris Baer, professor of pollinator health at UC Riverside, said. "Or they could, in principle, travel in cargo of airplanes."

While the insect has only been spotted in Washington State, experts said that could change.

"If they are happy out there, I don't see any reasons why they would not start to spread and come further down," Baer said.

But state officials in Washington are trying to stop that from happening, setting up traps in hopes of slowing the insect's spread.

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