Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Halloween Week's Terrifying Insects: The Japanese giant hornet

This Halloween week I would like to highlight some scary insects for you. While I normally endorse bugs and try to get people to not look upon them with fear and loathing, it doesn’t mean that all insects are cuddly, wuddly woolyworms. Some can capture our greatest fears and make them real. Such as today’s scary bug, the Japanese giant hornet…

I'll take your wallet if you please. 

As we discussed in our recent episode, there is something inherently scary about a giant bug. Visually insects are horrifying looking but we can’t tell when they are small. Once giant though, their inhuman characteristics shine right through! Plus they seemingly have super powers that could assist in their hostile takeover of the world. While there were giant insects earlier in Earth’s history, a drop in oxygen levels among other factors has led to their current diminutive stature. But that doesn't mean that there aren't still some monstrosities out there! Today’s scary insect is the Japanese giant hornet, one of the Kaiju sized terrors of the arthropod community.

The Japanese giant hornet, or ōsuzumebachi in Japan (translates as giant sparrow bee), usually reaches lengths of an inch and a half and has a wingspan of over 2 inches. They are brightly colored, with yellow-orange bodies that have black stripes on them. As with most wasps/hornets they are hunters rather than pollinators. Despite what your brain's fear region is telling you, their usual dinner is not a human being. The workers hornets go out and hunt for prey items like caterpillars or beetle grubs. They attack and butcher their prey, hauling the chunks back to the nest to feed to their kin.  
The hornet carried him away shortly after the picture was taken

While we fear the sting of wasps like a yellow jacket here in the United States, they don’t really compare to that of a Japanese giant hornet. The giant hornet has a sting that is about a quarter of inch long that it uses to inject neurological venom into you. As with most other stinging insects this also releases an alarm pheromone that recruits nearby hornets to rise up and attack you as well. The sting has been described as driving a red hot nail into your flesh. While there are more toxic venoms around, the sheer amount the giant hornet can pump into you can be quite dangerous. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 30-40 people die in Japan from giant hornet attacks annually.

AKA More people than these two beasts

Another notable problem with these big honkers is their penchant for attacking and killing European honey bees. As shown in the videos below, the giant hornets send out a scout hornet that finds and marks a honeybee hive for attack. Then the hornets will get into a raiding party of about 30 adult hornets. These 30 then go and attack a honey bee colony (average worker force ~30,000). The hornets then proceed to Viking-style slaughter any fuzzy little bee that stands in their way. Once they dispatch the adults they then move on to the whole sale consumption and butchering of the baby bees. The native Japanese honey bees do have their defenses though. If they can catch the initial scout, they will dog pile on top of her and create what I can only call an oven ball of hot and steamy doom. The center of this hot pocket of bees becomes warm enough that it actually roasts the scout alive. 

It's like Mugsy Bogues trying to guard Shaq

National Geographic Video

Japanese honey bee victory video

That's all for today! Join us tomorrow for our next edition of Terrifying Insects!