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.)