Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Asian giant hornets go to school

Karla Salp

A student examines a hornet larva
While Asian giant hornet queens are still snuggled up for the winter, WSDA’s Pest Program has no time to rest. Winter/early spring is when our entomologists review the previous year’s results and make plans for the coming season.

From the start, an important part of WSDA’s approach to ridding the state of this invasive pest has been public education and involvement, which is what brought outreach specialist Cassie Cichorz to visit a third-grade class at Skyline Elementary in Ferndale last Tuesday.

With a wagon full of hornet memorabilia, Cassie has been visiting classrooms around Whatcom County, bringing the hornet to children class by class. Her impressive collection includes hornets in various life stages, combs from nests, a hornet suit she uses during nest eradication, posters, and – always popular with the students – Asian giant hornet temporary tattoos.

Students giving a thumbs-up for their favorite 
Asian giant hornet life stage

Winter is the perfect time for Cassie’s classroom visits – it is a break from our fieldwork that coincides nicely with school schedules – especially those in areas most likely to encounter the world’s largest hornet.  

Cassie Cichorz calls on a student in the back
of the class while displaying hornets
A former school teacher, Cassie has the skill to effectively engage with students and share her hornet knowledge with school children, teaching them how hornets live, what they eat, how they develop, and the threat they pose to local honey bees. Students also learn what to do if they think they see one: tell an adult who can get a picture and report it to WSDA.

Cassie spent half an hour with the class. While telling them about the hornets, she passed around vials containing hornets at various life stages. Some of the students displayed an impressive knowledge of insect development, naming all of the life insect stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult.

She also carried around a piece of comb from one of the nests that WSDA eradicated just a few miles from the school. The nest comb was “look but don’t touch” because of how delicate the paper comb is.

A student looks at pinned hornet specimens

Both students and staff were fascinated by the insects and most are excited about the opportunity to see them up close. One little girl was too excited to stay in her seat and kept sneaking up close to Cassie to better see the specimens she had even before they were passed around the room. And one staff member confessed that teachers who had already hosted Cassie in and her wagon of wonders in their rooms were sure to take a selfie with a hornet.

Cassie Cichorz lets students feel her hornet suit

While most students love the presentation, not everyone is so enthusiastic.

“Thanks, I’ll never sleep again,” one student said as Cassie packed up her wagon to head to the next classroom.

Schools in Whatcom County interested in the presentations can contact Cassie. She isn’t able to visit every school in the state, but there are many Asian giant hornet resources on our website, including math and science lesson plans appropriate for grades 6 – 10 from Scholastic.