Asian hornets, the largest in the world (size of a human thumb), are known for causing a handful of deaths every year during the summer and fall mating season in China and Japan, but in recent years the death toll has risen to twice the annual average.
Experts are blaming temperature increases that have reduced hornet population die-off during the winter and delayed hibernation allowing their numbers to balloon more every year.
The spread of human development and decrease of the hornet’s natural predators, such as birds and spiders is considered a factor in the increase of hornet attacks. Ecological and habitat changes contribute to the decrease in hornet enemies.
China has reported 42 deaths so far, with 1,500 injured and the toll is expected to rise, because swarms of venomous hornets are so unpredictable they have been witnessed attacking farmers unprovoked while working in their fields.
The monster hornets are predatory creatures that are contributing to the demise of honeybees. They also eat wasps and other insects, but their reaction to humans appears to be purely defensive and damage caused by their long stingers leave bullet-hole sized craters in the skin of people they attack.
One entomologist explained that being stung is excruciating and feels like a hot nail being driven through the skin. The hornet’s venom is so toxic it can dissolve skin. It causes allergic reactions that bring on systemic organ failure, often leading to death.
Hornets can fly incredibly fast, up to 25 mph and the more people run, the faster they are chased.
According to a report in CNN, one woman, Mu Conghui, was attacked by a swarm near Ankang City as she attended her millet crop.
“The hornets were horrifying," she told Xinhua, the Chinese state-run news agency. "They hit right at my head and covered my legs. All of a sudden I was stung and I couldn't move. Even now, my legs are covered with sting holes." She has had 13 dialysis treatments and received almost 200 stitches to repair the sting wounds.
Shunichi Makino, director general of the Hokkaido Research Center for Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute, explained that preventing attacks is difficult because hornet nests are hard to find.
Nonetheless, Chinese authorities have increased specialized medical teams and started training more personnel in the specialized treatment of hornet stings. They have also dispatched thousands of firefighters and policemen in full protection gear to find and destroy hornet nests, which include 710 hives so far, according to reports. The cost of government response has surpassed the equivalent of $1 million US dollars so far.
Asian or “Chinese” hornets have already spread to France, Spain and Portugal. The European Environment Agency expects the hornets will soon arrive in Italy and the UK, with many predicting arrival in the US as just a matter of time, if they aren’t here already.
It’s likely the hornets will make the translocation the same way other invasive species have; in cargo aboard ships or airplanes.