Asian Giant Hornet Kills 28 In East Asia, Also Spotted In US

By Philip Ross on October 2, 2013 12:02 PM EDT

hornet 1
The Asian giant hornet and its subspecies the Japanese giant hornet are natural born killers. The insect’s quarter-inch-long stinger is capable of injecting venom powerful enough to dissolve human tissue. (Photo: Creative Commons)
hornet 2
The Asian giant hornet has a wide, bright yellow-orange head and compound eyes. Its abdomen is black with thin orange bands. (Photo: Flickr/justinlindsay)

Asian giant hornets, the world's largest hornet species, are just about the scariest creatures on Earth. According to the Huffington Post, in the past three months, the carnivorous hornet has killed 28 people and injured hundreds more in central China. Most of the deadly attacks were in rural, wooded areas of southern Shaanxi, a province in the Northwest China region with a population of over 37 million people.  

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The Asian giant hornet, or Vespa mandarinia, and its subspecies the Japanese giant hornet are despots of the insect world and can kill and eat some pretty large bugs, including praying mantises. The 2-inch-long "yak-killer" with a 3-inch wing span is native to the tropical and temperate areas of Eastern Asia. The "small but highly efficient killing machine" has a quarter-inch-long stinger that pumps out venom carrying an enzyme with enough potency to dissolve human tissue, National Geographic reports.

The nasty insect can fly up to speeds of 25 mph and has been known to chase people for hundreds of yards. "The more you run, the more they want to chase you," one victim, whose kidneys were destroyed by the venom, told local Chinese media. According to CNN, when the man was admitted to the hospital, his urine was the color of soy sauce.

There was also an attack on 30 people, including 23 students, at a primary school in Guangxi province. One teacher tried to get his students to hide under their tables while he attempted to get rid of the insects, but he lost consciousness. Students suffered injuries to their heads, necks, hands and feet.  

Fortunately, humans aren't the hornet's natural prey. It's only when humans disturb one of their colonies that the hornets attack. Other insects, especially smaller bee species, are the Asian giant hornet's primary target.

The Asian giant hornet stalks its prey in droves, descending on their nests like an army of killer flying drones. A single giant hornet can kill up to 40 honeybees -- their favorite targets -- a minute. An army of 30 Asian giant hornets could decimate a colony of 30,000 honeybees in about three hours. The hornets enter the nest, slaughter the bees and take their bodies home to feed their young. The hornet even marks a honeybee colony once it has spotted one with a type of secretion to indicate its fellow hornets to attack. That's when the carnage begins.

Occasionally, humans get caught in the crossfire, as is happening in central China. In humans, the toxic venom from an Asian giant hornet can cause anaphylactic shock and kidney failure. One Japanese entomologist described the hornet's sting like "a hot nail being driving into his leg."

The Guardian reports that one woman in her 50s who was stung more than 200 times spent a month in the hospital and was "still incontinent" after being released.

The Asian giant hornet's venom is actually less potent than that of a honeybee, but the volume of venom is greater. Most people who die from stings suffer a life-threatening type of allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include swelling of the throat, low blood pressure, and an itchy rash.

"[They] seem brutal to us," Jeff Morales, a film producer who worked on a TV series called "Hornets From Hell," told National Geographic. "But they're just doing what they have to do to survive. They're excellent mothers and fierce protectors."

Experts fear that the recent spate of deaths in China could be attributed to changes in weather conditions there because of climate change. They say the warmer temperatures have made it easier for the hornets to breed.

And according to the Arlington Cardinal, the deadly Asian giant hornets were spotted in the U.S. in Arlington Heights, Illinois last year. There's even a Facebook page dedicated to tracking the hornets in that area.

Read more from iScience Times:

Pantego Texas Killer Bees Kill Horses: What Caused 30,000 Swarm To Attack?

Killer Bees Death: How Did Larry Goodwin Come Across 40,000 Africanized Bees In Texas?

Rare Western Bumblebee Reemerges In Oregon After Mysterious Disappearance 15 Years Ago

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