In China, giant hornets have killed at least 28 people. And while this might sound like a B-list horror movie plot, it’s very real. In addition to the people who’ve died, more than 400 more have been injured or chased by the angry insects.
The culprit behind the attacks, the Asian predatory wasp (Vespa velutina) and the Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia), are the world’s largest of their kind and can grow up to two inches long. The Asian giant hornet is also known as the yak-killer or the tiger-head bee, and it’s quarter-inch long stinger delivers a tissue-damaging venom, described by a Tokyo entomologist as feeling “like a hot nail being driven into my leg.”
Normally, these hornets live in rural parts of Asia, though they still manage to cost a dozen or more fatalities per year in China. This year, however, that number is more than doubled. Entomologists speculate that the exceptionally warm weather in China allowed the hornets to proliferate. ThinkProgress reports:
This summer, China suffered through massive heat waves, breaking records in places like Shanghai, Changsha, and Hangzhou in July, and affecting 700 million people through August. This has lead to dozens of heatstroke deaths, and, now, increasingly aggressive giant insects.
Climate models suggest that vespa velutina is more likely to invade areas of Europe where there are higher densities of beehives, as well as large areas of the Unites States this century.
As Quartz reports, farmers and people taking strolls through the woods aren’t the hornets’ only victims, either. They are also fond of attacking and killing honey bees. In Japan, native bees have developed a defensive strategy: they “cook” the predators by surrounding it and “engaging their flight muscles, raising their collective temperature beyond what hornets can withstand,” Quartz says. The placid European and U.S. honey bees, however, have evolved no such strategy.
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