They're called "Murder Hornets," and they've recently been found in the Pacific Northwest. The dangerous Asian giant hornets are trying to establish homes in Washington and Oregon. But they could also spread into Idaho and Montana, according to a study from Montana State University in Bozeman.

The hornets eat fruit, sap and other insects, including honeybees. They have been known to devastate beehives in the later summer and early fall. A team from the College of Agriculture studied the factors that the hornet desires in selecting a territory. The hornet queens need survivable winter temperatures and green spaces such as parks or forests for nesting, and of course, a food supply. The queens need protein and find it in honeybees. And, the hornets had to get here from Asia, so port locations were also factored in.

The team studied 175 counties. They found "high risk" areas in 32 counties, with one of those areas in Montana. It was Lewis and Clark County, which has a large number of bee apiaries and a high forest density. There was one "high risk" county in Idaho, 9 in Washington and a dozen in Oregon. Medium Risk was the largest category with 120 counties and there were 32 Low Risk counties. Missoula and Ravalli Counties were in the Medium Risk category.

The large hornets, Vespa mandarinia, were found first in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and then in Washington State's Whatcom County two years ago. This year, they were sighted early this month in Whatcom County. The Murder Hornets have not been seen in Montana or Idaho, yet.

Professor Bob Peterson of the MSU Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences said in a news release, "This risk assessment is important because it helps professionals who are monitoring for this invasive species to prioritize areas where the hornet is more likely to establish."

Recent MSU graduate Eric Norderud was lead author on the team's paper in the Journal of Insect Science this month. He now works with the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Station in Washington State.He said that some native hornets look like the invasive species, but if you're suspicious, contact authorities.

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