The Asian Giant Hornet, The Bee-Decapitating Hornet That Is The Stuff Of Nightmares

Published January 1, 2017
Updated December 5, 2018
Published January 1, 2017
Updated December 5, 2018

A literally heartless hornet that can sting you repeatedly and land you in the hospital? It's not a nightmare — it's the Asian Giant Hornet.

Asian Giant Hornet Size

Wikimedia Commons

They’re huge, they’re deadly, and they’re straight-up annihilating bees by the thousands.

Meet the Asian giant hornet, a large, dangerous insect with a flesh-destroying sting that demolishes pretty much anything in its path. The hornets are most commonly found in rural Japan, but have made appearances throughout southeast Asia and occasionally in North America.

While they have been known to kill humans, the grape-size hornets typically set their deadly sights on the hives of neighboring honeybees, which they systematically slaughter with particularly gruesome force.

The Asian Giant Hornet: In For The Kill

How do they take out entire colonies of bees in one fell swoop? By ripping the heads off of their poor, unsuspecting victims, one at a time.

Having previously sent in a scout to lay down a scent, the Asian giant hornets make their way back into honey and larvae-rich bee colonies, where they then proceed to decapitate the bees using the strong mandibles located near their mouths.

Bees don’t stand a chance against them. Indeed, the bees’ stings barely pierce the armor of these apex predators, and in as little time as a couple of hours, a small clan of these hornets can wipe out an entire bee colony of 30,000.

Armed with two sets of eyes positioned within its orange head, the Asian giant hornet, Vespa mandarinia, is especially destructive on account of its stinger.

Unlike bees, this hornet’s stinger is not barbed, which allows it to strike multiple times and always remain attached. This devastating appendage can not only pierce through the fabric of a rain jacket, but can deliver venomous poison which can break down human flesh, and overload kidney functions.

Human Hand Compared To Giant Asian Hornet

Justin Lindsay/Flickr

Surviving The Sting

So how does one defend themselves in the face of an Asian giant hornet attack? In general, experts suggest remaining as calm and still as possible.

In an interview with Wired, entomologist Dr. Steven Martin of the University of Salford recalled an experience he shared with a colleague in which they encountered a hive of these potentially fatal insects:

“You close your eyes, you close your mouth, you grit your teeth because it’s quite frightening. The other guy just couldn’t cope and he ran away, and he got stung several times. I was fine.”

Running would be futile anyhow, as the Asian giant hornets have been known to fly up to 15 miles per hour.

And unlike smaller varieties of bees and wasps, the size of the Asian giant hornet requires much more space to nest. They usually find these spaces in low-lying holes and tree stumps on the ground, making it especially easy for a person to literally walk upon a hive.

As for bees, while they do fight an uphill battle whenever they encounter one of these hornets, they do have a plan of attack. Upon noticing the scout inside their colony, worker bees band together to form a ball around the intruder, cooking it to death with the vibrations of their own bodies.

Because the Asian giant hornet lacks a heart, the bees crowd around it in an effort to prevent it from pumping blood with its body, constricting it physically with both mass and heat, and suffocating it with the carbon dioxide that had naturally built up within the ball surrounding the scout.

Sometimes this tactic can prevent a swarm from returning to the hive, but if they can’t wipe out the scout, the bees remain pretty much dead in the water.

Digging Asian Giant Hornet

Wikimedia Commons

If you do find yourself on the wrong end of an Asian giant hornet encounter, however, you’ll want to get yourself to a hospital immediately, especially if you’ve been stung repeatedly.

Once the hornet’s stinger has penetrated the flesh, the venom released immediately begins to break down skin cells. And due to its size, this can end up measuring a teaspoon’s worth of poison if you’re attacked by more than one.

Neurotoxins hit the body’s nerves, which results in a searing flash of pain, and it won’t be long before your kidneys begin to shut down. That is, assuming you don’t go into anaphylactic shock before then.

After reading about the Asian Giant Hornet, learn the ins and outs of colonies in our secret life of bees explainer. Then, check out the world’s most beautiful butterflies.

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