If you’re afraid of flying stinging insects, the Asian giant hornet might just be your worst nightmare. The bug can reach two inches long, fly at 25 miles an hour and their stings, which have been described as “like a hot nail through [ones] leg” can be fatal to humans. Even honeybees have reason to fear them—the hornets literally eat them for dinner. And now, thanks to global warming, the number of human and bumblebee fatalities are up in China.
Image (cc) t-mizo on Flickr
So it could all sound a tad hysterical, but the Asian giant hornets really do pose quite a threat. Chinese officials have reportedly advised the public to avoid walking through wooded areas in the Shaanxi province after 28 people have been killed and hundreds seriously injured by the hornets’ neurotoxin-carrying venom this year. With reports of individuals in remote areas being stung over 200 times, the venom can, in large doses, cause anaphylactic shock and renal failure.
As the number of cases of hornet attacks increases year on year, Chinese officials have speculated that warmer weather is responsible for the uptick. According to Quartz “[t]he average winter temperature in Ankang rose 1.10 ℃ in the span of a few years alone, allowing more hornets to survive the winter,” while the Guardian notes that “Experts have suggested in the past that warmer temperatures in the area have led to hornets breeding more successfully.”
And it’s not just the humans that need to be worried; the hornets like to feast on bumblebees. Peculiarly, as Quartz notes, Japanese honeybees have figured out how to fight back against the hornets. By cooking them: “After surrounding a hornet in a spherical formation, Japanese honey bees engage their flight muscles, raising their collective temperature beyond what hornets can withstand.”
But other honeybees lack this defense mechanism, and since a shipment from China allowed a few Chinese hornets over to the continent (a paltry 1.5 inches long to the Asian giant’s 2 inches), the insects have appeared in Spain, Portugal and Belgium, and the European Environment Agency warns that they’ll soon arrive in Italy and the UK. Like their larger counterparts, the Chinese hornet also feasts on the honeybee.
For now however, the Asian giant hornet remains within Asia (save a small handful of sightings in the US.)
Lead image (cc) Thomas H. Brown on Flickr