Published October 4, 2013
The world's largest hornets have been “wreaking havoc” on the world’s largest population, where they have already been responsible for the deaths of 42 people and injured at least 1,600 others in Shaanxi Province in northwestern China since July.
"The problem with this particular hornet is that it's big, sort of thumb-sized, and it packs a lot of venom. In fact, they are among the most dangerous insects of their type," said entomologist Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology at the University of California, Davis, who went on the state that "Even if you're not allergic, the amount of foreign protein that circulates in your blood after so many stings can cause kidney failure. It's like sepsis, and if you don't get on dialysis you can die."
Known as the Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia), the insects grow to about 2 inches long, and live in large nests containing several hundred individuals. They are found throughout much of eastern and southeastern Asia, and a particularly “notorious” in Japan.
While they don’t normally go after humans (preferring to eat other bees, especially honey bees), they often build their nests underground or even on buildings, where they can be innocently disturbed by unwary people.
“Disturbing them or merely passing too close for the hornets' comfort can unleash a fierce retaliation,” added Kinsey, who noted that some attacks “seem especially unprovoked, such as a recent invasion of a school in southern China, where 30 people had to be hospitalized after suffering multiple stings.
While fall is mating season for the hornets, Huang Rongyao, an insect expert with the Forestry Bureau of Ankang City stated that “local vegetation growth has increased hornet habitat, and that two months of hot weather have made the insects much more active.”
In addition, Hua Baozhen, an entomologist at China's Northwest Agriculture and Forestry University, stressed that the giant hornet’s natural enemies including birds and spiders have been decreasing in numbers while human populations in their natural realm are additional reason for the rise in attacks.