When the first so-called "murder hornet" nest was destroyed in Washington state last month, scientists discovered hundreds of live specimens in various stages of development, officials revealed on Tuesday.
The Washington State Department of Agriculture said there were more than 500 Asian giant hornets, including nearly 200 queens capable of starting their own nests, entomologist Sven-Erik Spichiger said.
“It really seems like we got there just in the nick of time as our original vacuum extraction seemed to only give us workers,” Spichiger said during a conference call with reporters. “We only got queens four days later after we cracked it open, and so if any queens had already left the nest, it was just a few.”
Asian Giant Hornet (Murder Hornet) (Washington State Department of Agriculture)
The Washington State Department of Agriculture said there were more than 500 Asian giant hornets, including nearly 200 queens capable of starting their own nests. (Washington State Department of Agriculture)
State officials said the nest was about the size of a basketball and was located after state scientists trapped several hornets and attached radio trackers to some of them using dental floss.
Once the nest was opened up, it was found to have 190 total larvae that developed from eggs, and 108 pupae, the next stage after larvae. They were nearly all queens.
The first "murder-hornet" nest was found to have 190 total larvae that developed from eggs and 108 pupae, the next stage after larvae. (Washington State Department of Agriculture)
Officials also found 112 workers, which included 85 that had been previously vacuumed out of the nest.
"All of the workers survived being vacuumed out of the nest," state officials said.
In addition to nine drones, officials also found 76 queens, nearly all of them new virgin queens.
"New queens emerge from the nest, mate, and then leave to find a place to overwinter and start a new colony the next year," according to the agency.
Scientists think other nests already exist, saying Tuesday it's impossible to know if any queens escaped before the first nest was destroyed.
"We know from the literature that a small percentage of these will go on to form colonies next year, should they have been given the chance to escape," Spichiger said Tuesday.
Asian giant hornets, an invasive pest not native to the U.S., are the world’s largest hornet at 2 inches long, and a predator of other insects, including the honey bees that pollinate many of the crops in Washington state’s multibillion-dollar agriculture industry.
While they can deliver a painful sting, the hornets only kill at most a few dozen people a year in Asian countries.
By comparison, hornets, wasps and bees typically found in the United States kill an average of 62 people a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
State officials plan to continue trapping the hornets for at least three more years to determine whether the area is free of them.
The first Asian giant hornet was found in the state a year ago and the first was trapped in July. Several more were later caught in Whatcom County. Murder hornets also have been found in British Columbia, Canada.
Spichiger said it is impossible to determine how the hornets got to the area, but the goal is to wipe them out before they get established and spread.
"The more people are outside and looking at this time of year, the more chances we have," he said.
Fox News' James Rogers and the Associated Press contributed to this report.