In the insects world, the Japanese Giant Hornet (Vespa mandarinia japonica) is a real beast. It is one of the subspecies of the Asian Giant Hornet (Vespa mandarinia), which is the world’s largest hornet family. As its name suggests, it is endemic to the Japanese islands, where it prefers rural areas where it can find trees to nest in.
Known in Japan as “ōsuzumebachi” which translates literally to “giant sparrow bee”, a single Japanese giant hornet can kill up to forty European honeybees a minute. So, a few of them can decimate an entire colony containing 30,000 bees. Compared to honeybees, it is a really giant: adults can be more than 4.5 centimeters (1.8 in) long, with a wingspan greater than 6 centimeters (2.4 in). It also has scissor-like teeth which can wreak havoc on its prey.
Once a Japanese giant hornet has located a hive of European honeybees it leaves pheromone markers around it that quickly attract nest-mates to converge on the hive. And the massacre begins.
European honeybees are more productive than the endemic Japanese honey bees. Because of that, In Japan, beekeepers often prefer European honeybees. But it is quite difficult to maintain a captive hive of European honeybees, as mentioned above.
However, the Japanese honeybee (Apis cerana japonica) has a defense against these attacks. When a hornet approaches the hive to release pheromones, the bee workers will retreat back to the hive, leaving an opening to allow the hornet scout to enter. At a given point, the bees emerge from their hiding places in an angry cloud formation containing some 500 individuals. They form a tight ball around the hornet that acts like a convection oven when the bees vibrate their wings to direct air over their bodies, warmed by their muscular exertion, into the inside of the ball. The interior temperature of the ball rises to 47 °C (117 °F). The hornet can survive maximum temperatures of 44–46 °C (111–115 °F), but the bees can survive up to 48–50 °C (118–122 °F), so the hornet is killed and the bees survive. It was found that the hornet can survive temperatures of up to 47°C, and temperature alone is not sufficient in killing the hornet via bee ball. The combined carbon dioxide concentrations increasing inside the bee ball coupled with the temperature increase causes the hornet to expire. The ability to withstand heat for the hornet decreases as carbon dioxide concentrations increase.
The amazing three minute video below, shows how the Japanese honeybees can kill a Japanese Giant Hornet forming a ball.
European honeybees are completely defenseless against the Japanese Giant Hornet attacks. Watch what happens if a group of hornet attack a European honeybee hive:
A National Geographic documentary named “Hornets from hell”.
Time-lapse Footage of Asian Giant Hornet Queen Building Nest
This time-lapse video shows an Asian giant hornet queen building a nest over the course of 3 days. The nest is made from chewed wood and saliva, which gives it that paper-like look. The queen also lays eggs while building the nest. Unlike a queen bee, she makes the nest on her own.
Asian hornets are known for their fearless behavior. The stinger of the Asian Giant Hornet is 1/4 inch (6.35 millimeter) long and because it has no barb, the Asian Giant Hornet is able to sting it’s victims multiple times. The venom injected by the stinger is incredibly potent and contains eight different chemicals, each with a specific purpose. These range from tissue degeneration and breathing difficulties, to making the sting more painful and even attracting other hornets to the victim. The Asian Giant Hornet is a relentless hunter and only a few are said to be able to completely wipe out a 30,000+ Honeybee colony in a couple of hours. The saliva produced by the larvae of the Asian Giant Hornet is said to give them their renowned energy and stamina when consumed on a regular basis. When chasing their prey, they have been reported travelling distances of up to 60 miles (96.5 km), at a top speed of 25 mph (40 km/h).
Oddly enough, these incredibly large and indeed dangerous Insects, are actually eaten by people who share the habitat of the Asian Giant Hornet. The Asian Giant Hornet is consumed by some as a regular source of food and is most commonly deep fried or served as a Hornet sashimi. Despite the fact that the venom of the Asian Giant Hornet is incredibly potent, it is only in rare cases when the person is more vulnerable, that it is actually the poison that has caused them to die. In Japan alone, 40 people are killed every year by stings from Asian Giant Hornets but fatalities are mainly caused by allergic reactions, often from multiple stings.
- Japanese Giant Hornet on wikipedia