Stirring Up a (Murder) Hornets’ Nest

Recent news accounts regarding the successful eradication of a nest of Asian giant hornets in Washington has spotlighted a highly innovative use of RFID technology.
Published: November 11, 2020

Amid the usual stories RFID Journal posts covering radio frequency identification deployments and announcements in retail, aerospace, defense, healthcare, manufacturing and other sectors, every now and then a unique use of the technology will come across our desks that makes us sit up and say “How cool.” A recent story about so-called “murder hornets” falls firmly into that category.

Asian giant hornets made headlines in North America last year when they began showing up in Canada and the United States, primarily in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Washington. They’re the world’s largest hornets, they’re nasty predators, and finding them on this continent was alarming since they’ve been a scourge in their native regions of Asia and the Russian Far East. The creatures feed on other insects, specifically honeybees—which makes them a potential ecological threat, since the vital honeybees already face an uncertain future—and their venom is strong enough to kill a human.

The term “murder hornets” quickly gained common usage in the United States, as the stuff of cheesy horror films seemingly had suddenly become a reality. In early 2020, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the deadly insects into the news background, but a few weeks back, the murder hornets shoved their way back into the spotlight once more when the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) discovered a large nest living in an old tree. Impressively, the WSDA managed to eradicate that nest—and it used RFID technology to do so.

Scientists in British Columbia and Washington have been working hard to stop the hornet populations from taking hold, and RFID has now added a valuable tool to their arsenal. RFID Journal reporter Claire Swedberg recently spoke to WSDA managing entomologist Sven-Erik Spichiger about how the agency tracked a lone hornet back to its nest, what the team found there and what this innovative use of RFID could mean for our chances of preventing the venomous insects from becoming an invasive species in North America. You should read Claire’s article when it goes live this Friday—it tells a fascinating (if shudder-inducing) tale.

In a year that has certainly been among the worst in recent history, marked by out-of-control bushfires, racism-fueled violence, earthquakes, police brutality, American political nightmares, Brexit, “Karens,” the worldwide COVID-19 outbreak, and many other disasters both manmade and natural, the presence of hulking, angry, stinger-armed killing machines is just the icing on a thoroughly inedible cake. The giant insects started out a headline-maker as the year began, so I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they’ve re-emerged as 2020 is thankfully coming to an end.

At least we can now move murder hornets over to the list of horrific aspects of 2020 that we have a chance of addressing. When Joe Biden becomes the 46th President of the United States in January 2021, he and his Vice President, Kamala Harris, will have a lot of work waiting for them as they assume the roles to which they were elected. Thanks to RFID, we can hope their focus won’t be diverted by having to battle killer wasps.

Rich Handley has been the managing editor of RFID Journal since 2005. Outside the RFID world, Rich has authored, edited or contributed to numerous books about pop culture.