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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Giant Asian Hornets Killing Chinese by the Score: Are They Already In America?

"Swarms of aggressive hornets, in their fall mating season, are inflicting a deadly toll in a central Chinese province. Hornets have killed 42 people and injured 1,675 people in three cities in Shaanxi province since July, according to the local government. Thirty-seven patients remain in critical or serious condition."

(Madison Park and Dayu Zhang, "Deadly Hornets Kill 42 People in China, 
Injure Over 1,500," CNN, October 3 2013)

No, what you just read is not science fiction. The frightening report refers to events in China over the summer and early fall of 2013. Farm workers in Shaanxi province are particularly vulnerable to these aggressive hornets whose sting causes deep dark craters in human skin the size of bullet wounds.

Their venom is a cocktail of eight different enzymes all consisting of a unique purpose ranging from disrupting breathing to dissolving flesh. This venom can cause allergic reactions, anaphylactic shock, and multiple organ failure. Some claim the hornet can shoot the venom into a human's eyes.

Consider the shocking results of recent attacks.

30 people -- including 23 primary school children aged between six and eight years -- were injured in a hornet attack in Guangxi province, south of Shaanxi. Their teacher, Li Zhiqiang, told his students to hide under tables as he tried to drive away the insects before he lost consciousness. The school's headmaster told local media that most of the injured suffered stings to their heads, necks, hands and feet.

Mu Conghui is a woman who was attacked in Ankang City while looking after her millet crop. She told Xinhua, the Chinese state-run news agency:
"The hornets were horrifying,"  "They hit right at my head and covered my legs. All of a sudden I was stung and I couldn't move. Even now, my legs are covered with sting holes."

One Ankang farmer, Chen Changlin, described his encounter with the hornets. As he harvested rice on evening, hornets swarmed a woman and child working nearby. When they reached Chen, they stung him for three minutes straight. Chen made it; the other two died. He told the China Youth Daily:

"I ran and shouted for help, but the hornets chased me about 200 meters, and stung me for more than 3 minutes."

Another victim, whose kidneys were ravaged by hornet venom, attested to the ferocity of the attack. According to local reports, when he was admitted to the hospital, his urine was the color of soy sauce. The man reported:

"The more you run, the more they want to chase you." 

Chinese government authorities say these attacks are from a particularly venomous species, the world's largest hornet, known as the Asian giant hornet or vespa mandarinia. The giant hornet extends about 3.5 to 3.9 centimeters in length, roughly the size of a human thumb. It has an orange head with a black tooth used for burrowing, according to an animal database at the University of Michigan.

The toxicity of the Asian giant hornet venom is actually lower than that of a honeybee, but the volume of venom is greater in the Asian Giant Hornet. The sting is described as a hot nail piercing the skin. Comparing the pain of a yellow jacket's sting to the pain of an Asian's sting is enough to cause great alarm -- pain lasting about four minutes for a yellow jacket to four hours for an Asian giant hornet.

More aggressive and more active during September and October breeding season, the hornets thankfully do go into hibernation in December. For the time being, local authorities have deployed thousands of police officers and locals to destroy the hives of the hornets. So far, about 710 hives have been removed.

Scientists believe the increased attacks could be caused by the unusually dry weather in the area, which makes it easier for hornets to breed. Urbanization could also be a contributing factor, as humans move into hornets' habitats. Some experts cited in Xinhua stated additional factors such as increased vegetation and a decrease in the hornets' enemies, such as spiders and birds because of ecological changes.

The Chinese government is finding out that the hornets are formidable. In addition to their potent sting, the insects have incredible strength and stamina. They are capable of flying up to 62 miles (100 kilometers) in a single day at speeds of 25 mph (40 km/h).

Are Giant Hornets Coming To America?

You may think only remote places in China are home to Asian giant hornets. Think again. It was reported in 2012 that an Asian giant hornet was spotted at a residence west of St. Viator High School.

In addition, a forum on titled "Need to kill Asian Hornets" and comments on a "Giant Hornet" article include reports of Asian Giant Hornets in Alabama, California, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia.

One Virginia resident reported:

 "I live in Richmond Virginia, and my parents live in King William Virginia. One day while visiting my folks, I was standing in their yard, talking to my mother with my arms crossed, when I heard what sounded like a rc airplane in a full on nosedive. I looked up just in time to see a humming bird sized hornet, identical to the picture of the Asian giant hornet, coming straight at me. It stung me on top of my ear & I have NEVER experienced such pain in my life, before, or since. The pain lasted for hours."

 ("Deadly Asian Giant Hornet Spotted in Arlington Heights, Illinois: Not Cicada Killer Wasp,"
 Arlington Heights Illinois Cardinal, July 30 2012)

So, should we in America prepare for a dangerous invasion of this intense predator that hunts medium- to large-sized insects such as bees, mantises, and other hornet species? With invasive species becoming more and more common, the answer is unclear. We must pity the poor Chinese workers that are now encountering these combative creatures. Swarms of Asian hornets would scare the BeJesus out of anyone -- the fear alone is palpable.

Would you like to know some more scary information about the hornets? Another problem is that the Asian hornet has a deservedly evil reputation for wiping out entire hives containing thousands of honeybees by biting off the bees' heads and then stealing their honey and bee larvae. The proliferation of the honey-bee slaying hornets could cause catastrophic effects.

The genius Albert Einstein has once mentioned that when bees disappear, the human race has only four years left to live. Although this saying is quite exaggerated, honey bees do play a big role in everyone’s life.

Honey bees are responsible for the pollination of at least 40% of food crops we eat and other plants in the environment. Through pollination, honeybees transfer pollen grains from one plant and place it to another so that these plants will be fertilized and be able to multiply. Without honey bees, we will not have any fruits and vegetable to eat. Without honey, famine will arise.

Aside from food crops, honey bees also help the wild flowers and trees in natural forests. Honey bees are responsible for the abundance of plants and trees in the woods and meadows. The forests survives with honey bees aids, so the more honey bees in the environment, the more abundant flora we will have.

The plants that animals eat are also pollinated by honey bees. If honey bees disappear and stop pollination of wild plants and fruits, the animals will starve. Some of the animal species are dependent on the food crops that honey bees provide.

Yet, A Silver Lining

The much smaller honey bees are fighting back against these giant killers. It seems Japanese honey bees have figured out how to fight back -- by cooking hornets. The Japanese honeybees form "bee balls" -- effectively mobbing and smothering the predators.

In the journal Naturwissenschaften, the scientists describe how hornets are killed within 10 minutes when they are trapped inside a ball of bees:

"When a hornet scout locates and approaches a Japanese honey bee hive she emits specific pheromonal hunting signals. When the Japanese honey bees detect these pheromones, a hundred or so gather near the entrance of the nest and set up a trap, keeping the entrance open.

"This permits the hornet to enter the hive. As the hornet enters, a mob of hundreds of honey bees surrounds it in a ball, completely covering it and preventing it from reacting effectively. The bees violently vibrate their flight muscles in much the same way as they do to heat the hive in cold conditions. This raises the temperature in the ball to the critical temperature of 46 °C (115 °F).

"In addition, the exertions of the honey bees raise the level of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the ball. At that concentration of CO2, the honey bees can tolerate up to 50 °C (122 °F), but the hornets cannot survive the combination of a temperature of 46 °C (115 °F) and high carbon dioxide level.

"Some brave bees do die along with the intruders, much as happens when they attack other intruders with their stings, but by killing the hornet scout they prevent it from summoning reinforcements that would wipe out the entire colony."

(Victoria Gill, "Honeybee Mobs Overpower Hornets," BBC News, July 3 2009)

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