These hornets aren’t just painful — they’re deadly, and they’ve already killed 42 people and injured more than 1,600 others. They’re the largest hornets out there, growing up to two inches long, with stingers that can be as long as 1/5 of an inch. While that might not seem massive, when it’s in your skin, it certainly would seem like it. The stinger itself isn’t the problem — what comes out of it is. These hornets are equipped with toxic venom that can cause anaphylactic shock and kidney failure in their victims.
While Asian giant hornets typically cause 30-50 deaths in Japan each year, cities in northwest China have reported the highest number of attacks. In Ankang, 230 people have been stung. The death toll is likely to rise, as a number of victims are still in the hospital, some in critical condition. Survivors report that these bees are anything but timid — they attack any bare skin available, including the head and face. Survivors say that the stings result in a temporary paralysis, resulting in more stings. The stings leave marks that last for weeks; one victim had to stay in the hospital for two months after being attacked.
Chinese authorities are providing $1 million in aid to the hardest hit areas and plan on establishing teams that will respond to hornet-related emergencies. They’re also trying to knock down or smoke out the hives — so far they’ve removed 710. Scientists are trying to figure out why the number of hornets is so high this year, and their best theory is that the dry summer weather has provided particularly fruitful breeding conditions. The hornets will likely continue their reign of terror until December, when they hibernate.
Asian giant hornets snack on other hornets, bees, and praying mantises, among other insects. Given that they can fly about 25 mph, they don’t leave their prey, or humans, much of a chance for escape. They can decimate an entire hive of honey bees in a day, eating both the larvae and the honey and tearing into the adults with their terrifying jaws. You can see a video of such an attack below.
Asian giant hornets have, unfortunately, also made their way across the pond. Last summer, residents in the Arlington Heights area of Chicago spotted the first hornets sighted in the U.S. There’s a Facebook page for people who really want to freak themselves out about possible sightings. While I wouldn’t want to encounter one of these hornets, I’d rather that than come face to face with a spider.