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  • Paige B.

Hornets from Hell

Many people have a common fear of bees which is known as apiphobia. This fear stems from having previous experiences with bees and hornets. Whether you've just been chased by one, or stung, that experience has placed these guys in a negative light in your mind. I myself can be seen freaking out more than necessary when one of these yellow and black insects come buzzing my way.

Now, bees and hornets may share the same colors, but they have many distinguishing differences. Bees are fairly docile and will only sting when they absolutely need to, such as protecting their nests. Stinging is very costly for them because their butt comes off along with their stinger, ripping them in half and causing them to die. Hornets, however, are more aggressive, stinging without being provoked, and able to remove their stinger to survive. This gives them the ability to sting you multiple times. You can also use physical differences to tell these two apart. Hornets are larger with less hair on their bodies while bees have more hair, known as pollen baskets, which is how they are able to produce honey and wax. Moreover, use their nest to help distinguish them from each other if you are still unsure. Hornets make their nest out of paper, known as wood pulp, while bees make theirs out of wax.

Knowing these differences is extremely important because in summary - hornets are extremely dangerous. Their stings inject a painful venom and if stung enough times, can even lead to death.

Asian Giant Hornets (Vespa mandarinia)

You may have heard of these "Murder Hornets" and believe me that nickname is extremely real. They are an extreme threat to honeybees, and, although they usually don't target people or pets, there is always a chance. Moreover, if they do feel threatened and attack, as I mentioned above, hornets are able to sting multiple times, thus leading to death. Therefore, it is recommended to avoid these hornets at all costs and to contact the local authorities if you spot any Asian giant hornets.


These hornets come from the temperate mountains and forests of Japan and are indeed giants. Queen hornets can reach lengths of 2 in (5 cm) with wingspans as long as 3 in (7.6 cm). The worker hornets are a little smaller, sizing 1.4 in (3.5 cm) in lengths. Besides the standard yellow and black colors, their heads are a light orange-yellow and thorax/middle bodies are dark brown. They have large mandibles (mouth) that they use for biting and 6 mm stingers with incredibly toxic venom. Another way to distinguish if they are Asian giant hornets is to look at their nest. They dig cavities or use holes already made by small rodents. These nest are usually found near rotted pine roots, tree hollows, and

sometimes buildings.


Asian giant hornets are the only wasp species that conducts group attacks on other hornet species and beehives. They attack at the end of summer which usually means the colonies they attack are more than halfway through their lifespan. The way they attack is brutal.

  • Phase 1 - Hunting: Solitary workers wait near the entrance capturing all prey that are in flight outside of the hive. They use their mandibles to catch and then bite the victims to death. They take these removed parts back to feed their larvae.

  • Phase 2 - Slaughter: If the Asian giant hornets nest is close enough to their target, they go from hunting to slaughtering. One of the hunters marks the targeted hive with a chemical. The solitary workers continue to attack the prey outside the hive to stop any counter attacks. Inside the hornets will stop at nothing until they have finished ripping their prey in half. The amount of time it takes to fully slaughter a hive can vary, but for example a single hornet can kill 40 bees within one minute.

  • Phase 3 - Occupation: Asian giant hornets become territorial of the hive they have infiltrated. The guard hornets threaten other animals that come near with sounds from clicking their mandibles together. The worker hornets tend to move in, spending more nights in the new occupied nest instead of with the rest of the colony.


One of the main victims of Asian giant hornets, the Japanese honeybees (Apis cerana), have adapted a defense against these attacks. The Japanese honeybees can recognize the pheromones that the Asian giant hornets use to mark hives. Being able to detect this chemical allows these honeybees to form an army ready to attack the intruders. When a hornet scout enters the hive, 500 plus honeybees form a ball around the hornet. The honeybees beat their wings extremely fast, causing temperatures to rise and CO2 to reach dangerous levels. Asian giant hornets are unable to survive these attacks. Therefore, the scout dies before it is able to lead other hornets to the hive.

Researchers are working on controlling the spread of Asian giant hornets in the US. They know that nests go dormant in the winter and that queens will disperse to form new hives. Their goal is to catch these emerging queens before they are able to start new hives. During the summer, researchers plan to set out traps to catch the reappearing queens and workers. The hope for these traps is to allow the attachment of radio-transmitting collars. These collars will help researchers track the hornets back to their nests to destroy them.

Interesting and Important Facts
  • 60-80 people die from allergic reactions to honeybee stings annually in the US while 30-50 people die per year in Asia from Asian giant hornet stings

  • Asian giant hornets rank the highest on the arthropod food web within its geographical range

  • A compound derived from larval saliva has been studied as a nutritional supplement called Vespa Amino Acid Mixture (VAAM)

  • Mice administered VAAM demonstrate increased swimming endurance

  • Researchers describe an Asian giant hornet sting to that of having a hot nail drive into one's skin

  • The Pacific Northwest portion of the U.S. mimics the species habitat in Asia, making it an ideal place for hornets to establish underground hives

Baker, M. (2020, May 02). 'Murder Hornets' in the U.S.: The Rush to 
   Stop the Asian Giant Hornet. Retrieved May 21, 2020, from 
Barth, Z., Kearns, T., & Wason, E. (2013). Vespa mandarinia. Retrieved 
   May 21, 2020, from                  
Fox, A. (2020, May 05). No, Americans Do Not Need to Panic About 
   'Murder Hornets'. Retrieved May 21, 2020, from   
Main, D. (2020, May 12). 'Murder hornets' have arrived in the U.S.- 
    here's what you should know. Retrieved May 21, 2020, from 
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