Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Asian Giant Hornets...in America?

So my wife and I were sitting in the living room watching TV when we noticed a loud buzzing coming from another room. The kind of sound you hear when a bee is an inch from your ear. It was earth-shatteringly loud compared to the buzz of a honeybee. I curiously approached the room, thinking a cicada must have found his way in. As I got within eyeshot, I could see very clearly that this was no cicada. I've had my fair share of bee, wasp and even hornet stings, and don't have a particular fear of (nor desire for) being stung. But in seeing this thing on the ceiling, the heebie-jeebies started to set in. Luckily I have a veil which is incredibly efficient at keeping flying insects from dive-bombing my face. Unluckily it was literally directly below this questionable creature. I put on a hoodie (the thickest one I own) and mustered up enough courage to grab the veil...and then ran back out of the room, making sure to shut the door securely behind me. All of my other beekeeping supplies remained in the room with The Beast, so I had to find something which would reasonably convince me that the creature had been contained once I got it in there. The best I was able to find was a large glass candle holder and a piece of cardboard. With my protective clothing and my containment vessel in hand, the time had come.

I felt incredibly brave with my gear on, and it only took me about 20 seconds to capture it. Initially, I thought it must be a cicada killer wasp. Further inspection and comparison to some Google image search results debunked that theory, so we continued looking around. Eventually, we found some photos that exactly mirrored the captive. They were purportedly of the Vespa mandarinia (aka Asian Giant Hornet or Japanese Bee-killing Hornet). I thought there was no way I was holding a Japanese hornet, so I continued to search and came up with nothing but more reason to believe that I had indeed caught one of these creatures. What was it doing in America...or more importantly, what was it doing in my house? Turns out they eat honeybees! Well, to be fair, the adults actually don't eat the bees. They chomp their heads off and take the thorax back to their nest to feed to their larvae, then the adult consumes a liquid produced by the larvae (vespa amino acid mixture). Really quite interesting.

Apparently a handful of these hornets can take out an entire colony of European honeybees in just a few hours. The Japanese honeybee has adapted to the threat and came up with an efficient way of killing them off before they can do any significant damage. When the Vespa mandarinia finds a honeybee colony, it starts putting off pheromone markers which can attract others from up to 10 miles away (a distance which they can actually fly in just a few minutes!). Once the Japanese honeybees detect the pheromone, around 500 bees will fly out angrily and form a ball around the hornet. Then the honeybees cook the hornet to death...literally. They all "vibrate their flying muscles" in tandem to generate heat very quickly. Honeybees are able to withstand temperatures up to about 10 degrees higher than the hornet can, so the hornet dies before the honeybees. Unfortunately European honeybees haven't developed this defense yet, so their colonies are summarily destroyed.

I don't know how it got here, but I couldn't let it leave. I had to kill the creature to ensure it wouldn't go tell all its friends about my honeybee colony (or my people colony, for that matter). After reading more about Vespa mandarinia, I learned that they excrete phospholipase enzymes, which means their venom is literally capable of dissolving flesh. Their stingers are nearly 1/4 inch long, and the feeling of being stung has been described as "feeling like a hot nail being driven into my leg."

I'll keep my fingers crossed that this was a freak incident and somehow this was the only one around. If not...well...we'll cross that bridge when we come to it, won't we?

14 comments:

  1. Lets hope that bridge doesn't exist!

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  2. Unfortunately...I've seen a few of them around my property. One escaped into my house the other night and we killed it...but I've seen a handful more since then :-S

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  3. My wife and I were opening my in-laws cottage in Long Beach Canada near Port Colbourne Ontario on June 5th and one of these guys show up buzzing around the kitchen light (it was dark outside). I had never seen one so big so I had to do an internet search which brought me here. Unfortunately I tossed the body outside before I thought of taking a photo. But I remember the size was around 2" long and it was very wide (not thin like a wasp). It took a few good swats to stun it enough to got it outside. I kept a brave face in front of my wife, but it really creeped me out trying to swat this giant buzzing around the light. I only hope they aren't nesting inside somewhere?

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  4. I've seen one or two of these in my back yard over the past couple of days (South Bend, IN) and they're terrifying. I'm glad my 14-month-old son and my wife are away visiting family this week so I can pick up some hornet spray before they come back.

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  5. We've had them here in Louisville, Ky for a couple of years now. I'm they have a nest outside of my workplace. They're definitely scary

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  6. This is an invasive species to North America. If you definitely have spotted, or captured, a Japanese Asian Hornet in the United States - please please please contact the Agricultural Extension or Entymology Department of your State University , they can put you in touch with folks who will accept what you caught, and make a visit to determine if there is a nest nearby and deal with it. As an invasive species, they need to go.

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    1. Thanks for saying this. I was potting plants 2 days ago-2/28/2014-and one landed on my arm. I froze and tried not to emit any hormones. I have cancer, and if a dog or a cat breaks my skin, I can end up in the hospital, even after going to an ER. By the way, we didn't have any bees last year.

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  7. I've seen them too I guess they found their way and migrated here to prey on our unexpecting little honey bees. sigh they are scary the heebie jebbies scary I could never muster up the guts to actually catch one ~(*0*)~

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  8. Found one..or shall I say it found me this summer. I felt like I was in a Willy wonka movie this thing was so huge! I called to my fiancée to come outside and see it BC no one would have ever believed me! Oh and I'm in New Jersey.

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  9. I found your site by googling large hornets us. Two summers ago, I had these large insects wandering slowly (looked like a B52 bomber) through my yard, around my eaves, etc. I feared they were looking for a place to put a nest. I went to the store and got some wasp spray kills from 20 feet away. I had about eight or nine of them cruising slowly through my back yrd two years ago. They are really scarey, however, Raid wasp spray makes them drop like a rock. I didn't see any at all last year, and hoping to not see any this year. I live in NW Iowa and we had a miserable cold winter last year and this winter, hoping it killed them off. If I kill another this summer I will call ISU. They were about 3" long, and heavy like a big bumblebee, but definitely a wasp or hornet.

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  10. I Just had an encounter with one of these and I live in Kansas.it TOUCHED/SMELLED my leg.

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  11. I saw a huge wasp in my neighborhood in CT. It was carrying another large winged insect up a telephone pole ( dinner maybe?) I have a photo of it. Any info on where to send the picture to get an identification?

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    1. Hi Sheena. If you send me the photo I will get it identified accurately. Tx, Tom (robben99 AT gmail DOT com)

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  12. I think I have a nest of them in the siding of my house. Two years ago was the first time I noticed them. It was Halloween. They gave me a fit b/c of my porch light. Last year nothing, now they're back. Worse part is I have Bee allergies! Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Oh I live in Maryland, Pasadena area.

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