Asian giant hornets have been spotted in Washington state, and entomologists warn that the invasive — and highly aggressive — species poses a threat to honeybees.
The friendly (by comparison) little honeybees have been domesticated for honey production and crop pollination.
But guess what the giant hornets, officially known as Vespa mandarinia, do to those poor little workers? They invade their hive and decapitate them, then occupy the nest and use the bee larvae to feed their own young.
“Asian giant hornet attacks and destroys honeybee hives,” Washington State Department of Agriculture said in a blog post. “A few hornets can destroy a hive in a matter of hours. The hornets enter a ‘slaughter phase’ where they kill bees by decapitating them. They then defend the hive as their own, taking the brood to feed their own young.”
But Japanese honeybees have a way to defend themselves. Unlike European honeybees, the Japanese bees, when attacked, form into “hot defensive bee balls” around the intruder. They vibrate their bodies, which raises the temperature to 116 Fahrenheit. The Japanese bees can withstand 117 degrees — the Asian giant hornet, 115 degrees.
So, a swarm that surrounds a hornet literally cooks the intruder to death.
A National Geographic video captured the defensive strategy in action. In the clip, a “murder hornet,” sent out to scout a hive, flies up and strolls in, unaccosted. The honeybees appear to be going about their business until, all at once, they attack. Hundreds of honeybees swarm the intruder, and thermal photography shows the temperature inside the writhing ball rising to 116 degrees, roasting the hornet alive.
Another video made the rounds on social media on Tuesday, prompting one Twitterer to say, “The way Japanese bees deal with murder hornets is just brutal but satisfying.”
That post drew the attention of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). The senator retweeted the post, writing: “OK, this may be the coolest video ever. Murder hornets defeated!”
Ok, this may be the coolest video ever. Murder hornets defeated! https://t.co/AvmJ5oGS3r
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) May 6, 2020
Another video making the rounds shows a giant hornet attacking a mouse and pumping the little guy full of venom. At the end, the mouse appears paralyzed and gasping for breath. Then the mouse tries to stand but quickly falls again and lies motionless.
The two-inch-long hornet disengages, flies off, then flies back, hovers over his victim, and flies off again — probably looking for more mice to sting.
While the giant hornets are not as deadly as some other insects, they do not lose their stingers like some bees and are able to continuously pump venom into a victim. In a 2006 paper on the insects, a team of Japanese doctors said the hornets are deadly to humans.
“In Japan, fatalities due to Vespa mandarinia (wasp) stings are estimated to range from 30 to 50 persons each year. Most victims appear to die from anaphylaxis or sudden cardiac arrest,” the doctors wrote, “while some of them die from to multiple organ failure including rhabdomyolysis, renal failure, liver dysfunction, respiratory failure, and disseminated intravascular coagulopathy.”
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