Thursday, October 31, 2013

PSA - Watch Out for Killer Hornets

Asian Giant Hornet (Photo by: Thomas Brown, via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0)

Back in the 1980s, the world was abuzz about killer bees (officially called "Africanized bees"). Last year, the existence of zombie bees was brought to the attention of the public. Now, somewhat reminiscent of the fictional genetically-engineered tracker jackers from the Hunger Games, we have killer hornets to worry about.

First though, if you happen to come across an article or receive an email saying that giant hornets are mutants created due to radiation exposure from the Fukushima power plant - and that they're killing people in Nebraska - that is false. However, the Asian Giant Hornet (Vespa mandarinia) does exist, and it can be deadly.

True to their name, these are LARGE hornets that live primarily in Asia. They are especially found in Japan, where they are also known as the Giant Sparrow Bee. These insects are about 2 inches long with a 3 inch wingspan. Their stingers are about a quarter of an inch long. As one might imagine about such a large hornet, the sting is quite potent. It has been described as feeling like a hot nail, and the venom contains a neurotoxin and can cause renal failure. Unless you're allergic, a few stings likely won't kill you, even though they will be quite painful and will leave a substantial wound behind. However, if somebody is unlucky enough to receive 10 stings, they should seek medical attention right away. (Of course, an allergic person needs help for any sting).

This year, the hornets have been more aggressive toward humans than usual. Just in China, they killed at least 42 people between July and the beginning of October, and injured over 1,600.

It's not just humans who are at risk from the Asian Giant Hornet. These predatory insects go after other hornets, mantises, and honey bees as well. They use their mandibles to decapitate their victims, and just a few hornets can destroy an entire honey bee colony in a few hours. Not all bees are defenseless, though. If a hornet scout happens upon a Japanese honey bee colony, the bees form a ball around her. They use their muscles to heat the inside of the ball, and they breathe out carbon dioxide. A few bees die, but the heat and CO2 also kill the hornet, which prevents her from summoning others to the hive.

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