Giant hornet attacks: Very real, very painful

asian giant hornet

A tidbit often trotted out to allay the anxiety of those who decline to so much as dip their toes in the ocean for fear of shark attack is that far more people die from insect stings each year than from man-eating fish.

The difference being, of course, that shark attacks generate considerable media attention while insect stings, even when they cause death, rarely make more than local news.

Not so in China, where more than two dozen people were recently killed and hundreds more injured in a wave of attacks by giant hornets.

Victims described being chased for a thousand feet or more by the creatures and stung as many as 200 times, according to The Guardian.

The culprit appears to be the Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia), which grows up to two inches long with a quarter-inch sting.

It is the world’s largest hornet and is known colloquially as the “yak-killer hornet.”

The Asian giant hornet injects a particularly potent venom that can damage tissue. Its sting can lead to anaphylactic shock and renal failure.

One Japanese entomologist described the stinging sensation as feeling “like a hot nail being driven into my leg.”

Unlike honey bees, hornets can and will sting repeatedly, and do not die after striking victims.

Most of the attacks in China during the past three months were in the southern region of the Shaanxi Province, in central China. In the city of Ankang alone, 18 people have died from the stings, health official Zhou Yuanhong told The Associated Press.

Hornet attacks are a recurring problem in southern Shaanxi from May to as late as November.

According to Ankang police, 36 people died in the city and 715 were injured by the creatures between 2002 and 2005. But the problem has been particularly severe this year, possibly because of weather changes, according to The Guardian.

Experts have suggested in the past that warmer temperatures in the area have led to hornets breeding more successfully, that laborers have been moving farther into areas where they may disturb nests and that the insects are sensitive to chemicals found in food and cosmetics.

Hundreds or even thousands of hornets can live in a single nest, according to Li Jiuzhou, deputy director of the Shaanxi Bee and Wasp Industry Association.

They attack humans only if disturbed, he added. But they are carnivorous and can quickly destroy bee colonies.

Ankang’s fire service has removed more than 300 hornet nests this summer, but experts said that the problem was unlikely to end entirely until the temperature drops.

(Top: Some fool somewhere holds an Asian giant hornet.)

17 thoughts on “Giant hornet attacks: Very real, very painful

  1. Haha – the caption! 😉 I’ve read about these monsters before. Their size is mind-boggling compared to the hornets we normally see.

    Do they have any plans on how to “combat” the issue in China? It’s sounds as if they are becoming a rather serious problem. 😦

  2. LOL… I had just posted a giant hornet photo on Google+. Great minds think alike! LOL Indeed, they are monsters. They are greatly feared in parts of Japan as well.

  3. A little off pint here but: The two horrible experiences of my childhood in Small Town, very Old South/Dixie Influenced Texas: 1. When a local filling station owner’s big German Shepherd kept attacking me as I walked down the street beyond the redneck owner’s filling station as he stood by laughing (my Old Man was most upset and took it up with the redneck later) and (2) riding my bicycle as fast as possible on the sidewalk at my grandmother’s house (she lived with Miss Trannie the old school ma’rm at the time) and my head brushing a hornet’s nest and the hornets attacking my burr scalp. I think No. 2 was by far the worst experience of my life. Almost as bad as (3) when I rode my bike as fast as possible into the alley by the Fire Station when the only paid fireman in town Tim Burns was barely moving but bumped my little bike in the fire truck and I thought surely he was going to die of a nervous breakdown when he got out and fired up a cigarette right there even though I wasn’t hurt when he knocked me off my bike. He called my Old Man and apologized profusely even though the Old Man didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. Amazing (1) how we all, wherever we are, survive childhood and (2) how quaint times past could be when the local fireman would call your Daddy to report himself for an accident in a town alley. Southern ways are such a mixed bag as you of all people know, most favored status blawger at Cotton Bawl. Keep up the interesting work!

    • Reverend, every one of those stories would make a good post in their own right, wouldn’t they? Very entertaining, though perhaps not so at the time. And, yes, there has definitely been a shift in how our culture operates. Take your third incident, for example: That would never happen today because, for the most part, kids aren’t allowed to do what we were in terms of riding bikes all around town/country unsupervised.

      Some may disagree but I think the onset of helicopter parents has been detrimental to the development of children. My friends and I roamed far and wide as kids, fished in fast-moving rivers, swam in ponds, caught snakes, turtles and any other living thing we could get our hands on, had rock wars, played baseball in vacant lots, climbed through old barns and abandoned buildings, clandestinely chewed tobacco and yes, on occasion threw rocks at hornets’ nests, albeit from a good distance.

      We got stung once in a while, took a tumble now and again, and got our rear ends whipped occasionally, but it was all part of being a kid and learning about and enjoying the world around you. Kids today may have access to myriad electronic gadgets, but there aren’t enough fancy toys in the world today to top the enjoyment of a childhood spent doing what I – and it sounds like you – did 30-40 years ago.

  4. Or even longer than that. We rode bikes around our neighborhood, played outside until it got dark at 10:00, and our parents shouted out the front doors when it was drop dead time to come home. Someone always heard, would find us, “Marsha, your mom’s been calling you. You’d better get home.” My brother was allergic to bees. We steered clear of anything flying with stingers. He wasn’t crazy about jellyfish either. Great post!

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