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The Asian Giant Hornet (Vespa mandarinia)

Updated: May 3, 2020

The Giant Asian hornet is the world’s largest hornet and has been nicknamed, the Yak-Killer. In 2013, they killed 41 people and sent 1600 people to the hospital in just one Chinese province.

Asian hornets are social insects, like bees, but they don’t make honey like honeybees. They are highly predatory and will attack many species of insects to provide food for their larvae. Their most frequent prey are honeybees. Scouts, when they find a food source, can release chemicals, (just like bees do) to alert their sisters where to find the food source. Once the queen gives the command, her subjects raid the enemy’s nest, wiping out almost all resistance and they steal the fallen enemy’s larvae. They don’t eat the larvae themselves. They chew them up into a paste and deliver them to their own larvae. The larvae, in turn, produce an amino acid substance that provides sustenance for the hive.

An Asian hornet dispatching a brave honey bee warrior. Image Source: Gabriel Galaz

Asian hornets are much larger than bees. In their raids, they are known to decapitate bees with a single bite. The queens of Giant Hornets can be quite large themselves

Size comparison with Queen Hornets displaying their large stingers
Size comparison with Queen Hornets displaying their large stingers – Image Source: Fox.Au

Honey bees, except for most queens, have barbed stingers which can get stuck in their victim’s skin. Sometimes, because of this, their guts can get ripped out of their body while trying to pull away. Hornets, however, have smooth stingers and can sting repeatedly. Their stinger is over 6mm long and the venom is very potent. Giant hornets can cause significant damage to skin and deaths are not uncommon. In 2013, 1600 people in a province in China were hospitalized due to attacks by the Giant hornet and 41 people died. In Japan, 40 people die each year due to stings by a close cousin of the Asian Giant hornet, Vespa mandarinia japonica. If allergic, death is almost guaranteed; even more shockingly, deaths have occurred even if NOT allergic.

Man's skin with holes cause by venom from bee stings
This man suffered multiple stings. The damage to tissue can be quite extensive, even in non-sensitive people. Image Source:

Though these massive wasps seem almost unfettered, native honeybees have developed some defenses against these voracious killers. The Japanese honeybee has evolved a way to protect themselves from their marauding neighbors. When a scout arrives, the Japanese honeybees will allow the scout in and will suddenly pounce on her. They completely surround her, displacing oxygen and increasing carbon dioxide to dangerous levels. The bees use friction to raise her internal temperature to ~122 degrees Fahrenheit. They accomplish this by violently vibrating their bodies against hers and each other. This is too much for the scout to tolerate, so she eventually dies. In a twist of fate, if the scout’s chemical message were to still get out, a swarm of her sisters will arrive and a full-scale battle begins, with heavy losses on both sides. Unfortunately, imported European honeybees have no such defense and are completely wiped-out. 

UPDATE: 05-03-2020: This hornet has now arrived in the United States! It's being colloquially called, The Murder Hornet. North American honeybees also have no defense against this enemy.

Watch the tactics of the Giant Asian hornet against a lesser foe below:

Header Image Courtesy:

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