Happy Friday everyone, you’ve made it through the week and now it’s time for an all-new episode of Weird Biology!
This week, we’ll be learning about a horrifically lethal insect whose very name makes you cringe. It’s that special bug buddy that I want to stay very far away from me forever,
(I’m of the opinion that the words “giant” and “hornet” should never be combined, but maybe that’s just me.)
The Asian Giant Hornet has a perfectly descriptive and terrifying name. It’s the largest hornet on the planet, and is also known as the “Yak-Killer Hornet” because of its incredibly painful sting. (‘Yak-Killer Hornet’ is not a set of words that I ever wanted to type, but I got myself into this.) As the name suggests, the Asian Giant Hornet is found, uh, in Asia. Specifically, the lowlands and forests of East Asia. This unfortunately means the Hornet shares elbow space with hundreds of millions of humans, so if you live in East Asia you have my condolences.
And like the name suggests, the Asian Giant Hornet is, well. Giant. Though basically anything over half an inch is Too Dang Big when we’re talking about the wasp family. But we’re just out of luck in this case, because this hornet is almost 2 inches long. It’s upsetting to find a spider that large, never mind what’s basically an overpowered and permanently angry wasp. And if that weren’t enough, they make underground hives that they share with 30+ of their brethren. It's enough to make you just wanna curl up and whimper, y'know?
That is TOO MUCH HORNET. PUT IT BACK.
Their stingers are only 6 mm long, which might not seem that bad! But like a lot of things in life, it’s what they do with it that counts. In this case, what they do with it is inject a large amount of corrosive venom into your helpless flesh. Fun! (Don’t…. google that. Just don’t.) The sting of the Asian Giant Hornet is considered to be one of the worst insect stings in the world. A single sting can completely ruin your entire week, and multiple stings can be lethal. Which really sucks, because a hive of these things is more than enough Hornet to kill your face right off. Right off.
But normally, Asian Giant Hornets aren’t using their stings to kill humans. They use them to kill the absolute cheesits out of other insects, which they then eat. (No joke, Wikipedia describes them as “intensely predatory”.) Asian Giant Hornets will eat any insect they can get the drop on, including praying mantises and smaller wasps. They’re like a pack of hungry and extremely toxic wolves. And one of their favorite foods is… honeybees! (In case you didn’t think these things were awful enough, they especially love baby honeybees.)
When an Asian Giant Hornet scout finds a honeybee hive, they leave a scent marking outside. The scout then retreats to its own hive and returns with a Giant Hornet invasion force. An entire bee hive can be destroyed in hours by as few as 30 Hornets. The honeybees fall trying to defend their queen and then the hornets steal their larva. The poor bees have absolutely zero defenses against them.
Well. MOST honeybees, anyway.
The Asian Giant Hornet has exactly one counter, but it’s a really darn good one. It’s-
(That’s right, it’s a two-for-one special! Hurray, time for bees!)
The Japanese Honeybee is pretty identical to the European Honeybee, down to being kept commercially for their honey. But there is one major difference. If an Asian Giant Hornet scout approaches a Japanese Honeybee hive, the entire beehive is immediately on alert. The Honeybees respond to the Hornet by creating a diabolical and kind of insane trap: they abandon the entrance of the hive, which attracts the Hornet scout into investigating.
And once the Hornet scout is inside the beehive, it’s TIME FOR BEE MOSH.
LET THE BODIES HIT THE FLOOR LET THE BODIES HIT THE FLOOOOOR
The bees dogpile the Hornet, immobilizing it. The bees then vibrate their flight muscles, generating a massive amount of heat. This causes the mosh pit temperature to skyrocket over 115 F, literally cooking the Hornet scout alive. Most of the bees escape relatively unharmed because they can tolerate higher temps than Asian Giant Hornets, probably because Metal fills their tiny bee souls. With the Hornet scout disposed of, the main invasion force will never arrive. This strategic assassination keeps the beehive safe for another day, and it’s all thanks to murder! Yay, bees!
The relationship between Asian Giant Hornets and Japanese Honeybees is a case of ongoing biological warfare. We might learn things from observing, orrr we might not. Whatever the case, you have to admit that it’s really cool. So long, Asian Giant Hornet! I hope I never have to type your name again!
1- t-mizo, Flickr
2- JLplusAL, Flickr
3- Charles J Sharp, Wikimedia Commons
4- Takahashi, Wikimedia Commons