The Japanese, or Asian, Giant Hornet is a killer. An invasive species that seems intent on a manifest destiny — if such a thing exists with insects. This bug’s one-quarter-inch stinger injects people with a venom so nasty that it dissolves skin like sulfuric acid and breaks down human blood rapidly. Adult working hornets can be nearly two inches long, with queens topping out at as much as three inches. Workers have three-inch wingspans. Those who have been attacked by this horrid creature always say they can’t believe the sheer size and ferocious menacing temper of these winged warlocks. They are so large that when they fly quickly around, some people have mistook them as hummingbirds, according to some reports. They can fly at a speed of 30 miles per hour, a speed more akin to the flight velocities of small birds.
Yes, they’re huge. And they have the dubious honor of being the largest hornet species in the world. The Asian Giant Hornet or Japanese Giant Hornet (Vespa mandarinia) have appeared in Alabama, California, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia, according to an article that went online last spring in Roadtrippers. Although other reports, like a Mother Nature Network article from June 11, 2009, say these insects have not yet invaded the U.S.A. In a July 30, 2012, online article on The Cardinal from Arlington Heights, Ill., readers of the small newspaper claim the Giant Asian hornet was spotted at a residence west of St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights. The publication went on to say that the Arlington Heights Park District had alerted park goers to be alert for Cicada Killer Wasp, which can grow to about two inches long and are black, with splashes of yellow on their wings and bodies.
Responsible for killing about 40 people annually in Japan, and reportedly, about the same number of humans each year in China, this species is colonial and relies on a queen to lay eggs for larvae, which worker hornets care for in a large hive. These hives, in China and Japan, are almost exclusively built inside the ground. Some have been discovered inside large, dead, tree trunks. Unlike hornet species in the U.S.A., it rarely builds hives that hang from tree limbs, probably because the size of these hives are so large — equivalent to the engine size of some small automobiles. Since this species is comprised of a much larger insect, these nests are normally much larger than hives of American hornet species. And since this species involves a large insect, the prey they feed on is also larger. A favorite food of these killers is honey bee larvae and the honey that honey bees make. They are also known to feed on other pollinators, like wasps and butterflies. They are an enemy, not a friend, to the environment, but climate change has theoretically been friendly to this rogue insect. Drought and warmer temps have given it a habitat that it likes, and fallout associated with urbanization has been an ally, too. They not only set up nests deep in the forest, but a city park will do fine, too. A group of Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts enjoying a summer walk in the woods might come under the raging wings of these things. It doesn’t take much to provoke them: Just step foot in their territory and you are Public Enemy Number One.
Thirty Vespa mandarinia have been known to completely wipe out a hive of 30,000 honey bees in less than three hours. The large killer hornets use their mandibles like Chinese broad swords to chop up the honey bees, leaving bits and pieces of their slaughtered carcasses.
Vespa mandarinia is a true thug. It always acts in a violently voracious behavior that can best be described as predatory and gang-like. If you see only one of these things flying around above you, chances are, it’s a scout. And more are on their way….Scouts are sent out from the hive to check territories near and far away. If the scout finds a food source, like a honey bee hive, it will bravely and boldly enter the hive. Then it will spray pheromones inside for the rest of the hive to be able to sense and smell, and ultimately, zero in on and attack. A scout may see a human walking through the woods, near the hive, as a potential menace, and the rest of the hive will be made aware of this threat. Within minutes, a hiker will find the wrath of hell zooming around, with the large flying tormentors looking for a route to strike and sting. Some reports have indicated that in Asia, victims have been chased hundreds of meters and have been stung hundreds of times by Vespa mandarinia swams.
At five times the size of a honey bee, 30 of the massive killers have been filmed obliterating a colony of 30,000 honey bees in less than three hours. With the European honey bee mysteriously losing its numbers in North America, all it will take to completely cause this insect species to be completely eradicated here would be for Vespa mandarinia to start proliferating in numbers in the U.S. and Canada. It is unclear why the European honey bee has found vastly diminishing numbers in North America. Some blame pesticides, others, even the signals from cell phones. Their dwindling numbers are cryptic. An enigma. But having the Giant Asian Hornet inside our North American continent will only see more of a decimation of this loved and needed pollinator and honey making wonder. Native Japanese honey bees have evolved a nasty, yet effective, way of handling killer hornet scouts, however. They set a trap for killer hornet scouts, which the Japanese honey bee colony will allow into their hive, and even allow the scout to spray its pheromone around inside the hive. The Japanese species of honey bee then swarms all around the scout. They do not sting the scout, but cook it to death by flapping their wings all over, building a high temperature, as they fully envelope the lone killer hornet. Thermal cameras have been used to capture this unique way of the Japanese honey bee to protect their hive in a National Geographic video. The surrounding mass of honey bees vibrate, collectively raising the temperature to 117 degrees Fahrenheit. The Japanese honey bee can tolerate a temperature of 118 degrees Fahrenheit. Conversely, the Asian hornet can only tolerate temps of 115 degrees Fahrenheit. So the lone hornet scout is “baked” to death by the collective body heat of the army of Japanese worker bees. Mother Nature has a way of protecting one species from another attacking species, like the rogue Asian Giant Hornet. But the European honey bee will have no defensive mechanism set in place to instinctively thwart off an attack by such a scout inviting itself in to a European honey bee hive, say, in North America or Europe.
For untold years now, Vespa mandarinia has killed an average of 40 people a year in Japan. In 2013, the Asian Giant hornet killed at least 28 people in China, according to The Huffington Post United Kingdom, and this same article states that this species had killed six people in France. It is feared that this hornet may soon be on its way to the United Kingdom. The British Beekeepers Association writes on its homepage:: “Although it is not yet present in the UK, it is considered likely to arrive soon. The places it is most likely to be found are in southern parts of England (it may be able to cross the channel from France) or goods among which it could be accidentally imported (such as soil with imported pot plants, cut flowers, fruit and timber). Active between April and November (peak August/September). “
Vespa mandarinia is as stealthy and sinister as they come; and although a creature a bit less than two inches long is a lot smaller than a hippopotamus (hippos kill 3,000 people a year, according to reports), this insect, so large that it will be like a mini-drone flying menacingly and erratically around you, will most likely be the last thing you see before you die. If they happen upon you walking through the woods or a park. Nobody wants this thing in their backyard, or the woods behind their house. But all it will take is a few stowaways on a cargo plane or cargo ship coming from the Far East to our shores and you can say ‘Welcome to the U.S.A., Vespa mandarinia!’
Then it’s on. They’re natural born killers and yes, they’ll kill people here, as they’ve done in Japan, China and France. The only reason I doubt if they are in the United States is that there have not been any deaths attributed to a swarm of Japanese Giant Hornets here. In other parts of the world, victims have been stung over 200 times by Vespa mandarinia. This is one killer that definitely makes its mark. Yes, when it rains, it pours, with Vespa mandarinia, and they descend on their victims like dark angels straight out of hell. Of course, an even more sobering thought is that if you have an allergy to bee stings — as in the case of some people who must get rushed to the emergency room if they fall prey to one wasp or honey bee sting - being attacked by an army of Asian giant hornets will undoubtedly be the last hurrah. It's all over except the wake and burial. Vespa mandarinia’s venom destroys red blood cells, which can result in kidney failure and death. And those who have an allergy to bee venom who experience anaphylactic reactions are even more at risk. People who have Anaphylaxis are hit first in the airway - resulting in tightness of the throat, chest tightness and difficulty breathing. Life-threatening and terrifying, these symptoms can also be accompanied by chest pain, low blood pressure, dizziness and headaches. For some, being bitten by one honeybee, with the stinger still stuck in the victim’s skin, can spell peril.
Vespa mandarinia prefers sub-tropical or tropical environments and will most likely find a fit with dry and arid areas, too. The regions of Japan and China where this species has thrived for so long have seen this historical pattern emerge, anyhow. But being that the Asian Giant Hornet builds subterranean nests, like its smaller cousins in the U.S.A., it may be able to adapt to colder climates, too. Just like a grizzly and her cubs hibernate in a cave during winter, a hornet colony lies dormant through inclement weather months. In China and Japan, the best and most effective way of fighting the spread of this species is to find the nests and destroy them. Believe it or not, some brave huntsmen do this for a living in Asia, without much of a threat to their well being. Of course, they wear special protective gear and leave no area of their body exposed while ‘hornet hunting’. The hives are the homes for the queen and hornet eggs and larvae. Kill the queen, the eggs, and the young, and the colony is killed off, too. Since the predominance of nests are found underground, one of the techniques hive hunters use to locate these hives are to follow a scout back to where it came from — kind of a tricky business, of course, but with nests not hanging from the branches of trees, like many hornet species in North America, following a scout is a safe and sure way to discover where the hornet came from. it’s hard to see something that’s hidden underground, after all….
In Asia, the Asian Giant Hornet builds nests in the low mountains and forests. Climate change has greatly enhanced the ‘creature comforts’ of this species, according to reports. The world is getting warmer and this horridly anti-social critter prefers warmth. It’s iffy if Vespa mandarinia will be able to adapt to colder weather - if it migrates or finds itself somehow, someway - in colder European or North American countries. But in China and Japan, Vespa mandarinia has been flourishing and multiplying in vast numbers in the tropical and sub-tropical environments of this expanse of Asia.
According to the website Hornet Juice, the distinguishing visual characteristics of Vespa mandarinia are as follows: “The head of the hornet is orange and quite wide in comparison to other hornet species. The compound eyes and ocelli are dark brown, and the antennae are dark brown with orange scapes. The clypeus (the shield-like plate on the front of the head) is orange and coarsely punctured; the posterior side of the clypeus has narrow, rounded lobes. The mandible is large and orange with a black tooth (inner biting surface).”
The thorax and propodeum (the segment which forms the posterior part of the thorax) of the Asian giant hornet has a distinctive golden tint and a large scutellum (a shield-like scale on the thorax) that has a deeply-impressed medial line; the postscutellum (the plate behind the scutellum) bulges and overhangs the propodeum. The hornet’s forelegs are orange with dark brown tarsi (the distal – furthest down – part of the leg); the midlegs and hindlegs are dark brown. Wings are a dark brownish-gray. The tegulae are brown., Hornet Juice adds.
The gaster (the portion of the abdomen behind the thorax-abdomen connection) is dark brown with a white, powdery covering; with narrow yellow bands at the posterior margins of the tergite, the sixth segment is entirely yellow, details this website, an all-you-wanted-to-know-about-Vespa mandarinia—but-are--afraid-to-ask type of online operative.
But mainly, Hornet Juice is used as a marketing tool to promote some sort of hyper-charged power drink. According to this website, “The incredible effects of hornet juice have not gone unnoticed in Japan: The country’s latest sports drink is based on this “hornet power.” It contains a synthetic form of components in the hornet larval saliva, which is touted as performance-boosting. Japanese gold medalist and world-record marathon runner Naoko Takahashi declared that hornet juice gave her an edge in the Olympic Games held in Sydney, Australia. To learn more about this sports drink click here.” And so humankind has found some salable way to harness some good from this diabolical creature. Leave it to entrepreneurial humans to come up with such a scheme.
So this brings us back full circle. Are Asian, or Japanese, Giant Hornets nesting down in North America yet: According to an Oct. 4, 2013 posting of Discovery.com: “Some news reports are also trying to tie the hornet attacks to climate change. James H. Carpenter, curator of hymenoptera at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, who is one of the world’s leading experts on hornets, is skeptical. First off, hornets don’t migrate. He also says that their range has not been expanding and that they currently exist in both temperate and tropical regions of Asia in a wide swath from India to Korea and Japan, south to the Malaysian Peninsula and north to the Russian province of Ussuriland.
Still, cargo inspections for insects and other invasive pests are declining and probably will get worse, according to Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis. She noted that responsibility for these border checks has shifted from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to the Department of Homeland Security, the Discovery.com article reads.
“All kinds of stuff is coming through and they aren’t really paying attention,” Kimsey said. “If it doesn’t explode, shoot or have a beard, they don’t pay attention. We are seeing a lot of pests coming through that aren’t being intercepted. Now with the (federal) shutdown, nobody is inspecting,” the article adds..
And as far as I’m concerned, Vespa mandarinia probably isn’t in the United States yet simply because no deaths or injuries have been reported that indicate an attack by Vespa mandarinia has occurred. They will not come here, they will arrive, and they will make their presence known in the most heinous and horrible ways possible. The If it bleeds, it leads crews will have more than their share of work cut out for them, if the Asian Giant Hornet happens upon our shores somehow.
In the meantime, look around above you. And if you think that big winged thing flying around is a hummingbird, check the black and yellow mess of motion.