(CNN) –– It turns out that there were far more queens in the first giant honeycomb of Asian “killer hornets” found in the United States than were initially discovered.
The researchers estimate that nearly 200 queens were produced in that honeycomb only. Which represents a significant increase compared to the two queens originally found.
Entomologists with the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) eradicated and cleared the honeycomb found inside a tree cavity near Blaine, Washington, on October 24.
The researchers were able to aspirate 85 hornets from the honeycomb, most of which were workers. Only two queens were counted.
However, after opening the tree on October 29, they discovered much more inside. Scientists counted 76 emerging queens – all but one are likely new virgin queens. And entomologists believe that, based on size, 108 cells covered with pupae are likely queens too. Three queens were also caught nearby in a bucket of water, the researchers indicated.
Each of those queens could have spawned a new honeycomb had they escaped. And it’s unclear if other queens managed to do it.
“There is no question that if we hadn’t stepped in and destroyed this honeycomb, we would be starting with that number of 200 as a possibility,” said the entomologist Sven-Erik Spichiger during a video conference. “It really seems like we arrived just in time.”
The honeycombs of giant killer hornets
Spichiger explained that honeycombs can grow large enough to hold nearly 4,000 cells. So the honeycomb found in Washington was relatively small in comparison.
There were approximately 776 cells inside, 6 combs –– structures that support wasp larvae as they developed–– 6 unhatched eggs, 190 total larvae, 112 worker hornets, 9 drones, 108 cells covered with pupae, and 76 queens.
The researchers believe there are other hives in the region. The WDSA will continue to track and catch Asian giant hornets for three years to ensure the area is free of the insects.
The Asian giant hornet honeycomb was originally discovered on October 22. Using a new type of trap, the WSDA researchers tagged several captured hornets with radio trackers, which they used to identify the location of the honeycomb.
Asian giant hornets generally nest on the ground, but can occasionally be found in dead trees.
These insects, first discovered in Washington state in December 2019, are an invasive species not native to the U.S. They are the largest hornet in the world and prey on honey bees and other insects. A small group of Asian giant hornets is capable of killing an entire hive of bees in a few hours, the WDSA said.
And honey bees aren’t the only reason these creatures are nicknamed “killer hornets.” Multiple Asian giant hornet stings can kill a human, according to experts at Washington State University.
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