Killer Hornets

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Japanese Hornet and European Honey Bee                     

The world’s largest hornet is the Asian Giant Hornet (Vespa mandarinia) and subspecies, Japanese Giant Hornet (Vespa mandarinia japonica).  The body size typically hovers around 2.2 inches and the stinger alone is a quarter of an inch.  They are extremely fast as they can fly up to 25mph.  The tissue damaging venom has killed 42 people in China last year alone.  It has been said the painful sting “feels like a hot nail gun”.  Fortunately, the hornets are native to Asia.

This giant killer creates a European Honey bee (Apis mellifora) massacre straight out of a horror movie.  Especially since the hornets are 20 times heavier and five times the size of a Honey bee, with large piercing mandibles.  A hornet scout locates a hive and marks the location with a pheromone so its friends can come and attack.  The bees are decapitated in a matter of seconds as just one hornet has the ability to kill up to 40 bees a minute.  It is a grim scene as 30 hornets can kill 30,000 bees causing a hive to be decimated in a few hours.  The hornets seek out the high protein value larvae, which they chew into a paste to feed to their young.

Queen Hornets Retrieved from:

Queen Hornets

Hornet and European Honeybee  Retrieved from:

Hornet and European Honey bee

The Asian Honey bee (Apis cerana) has a tactic to thwart an invasion.  Since the hornets are heavily armored the bee stings do not penetrate their exoskeletons, thus other methods are used for protection.  They form a “bee ball” surrounding the intruder the moment they detect the alerting pheromone.  The 500 or so bees begin to vibrate thus raising the carbon dioxide and temperature above the maximum the hornet can survive. It can take between 20 minutes to an hour in some cases to kill the hornet according to Atsushi Ugajin of the University of Tokyo (

Bee Ball

Bee Ball

National Geographic depicts both the encounters between hornets and European Honey bees as well as Asian Honey bees in the following video.  Watch the horror followed by tactics of them: National Geographic Honey bee and hornet video

Written By: Heather Eversole

Heather Eversole has written 22 post in this blog.

As a Faculty Research Assistant, I am a part of the Bee Diagnostic team located at the University of Maryland, College Park. I process samples for the Bee Informed Partnership and APHIS National Honey Bee Survey, primarily seeking out the parasitic mite, Varroa. I wear many hats including generating reports, managing lab functions as well as assisting undergraduates with honey bee related projects. Prior to my honey bee research interests I took part in submerged aquatic vegetation research projects located on the Chesapeake Bay as well as field work involving mangroves in Belize and Florida. You might say I was “stung” by honey bees and now I am hooked. I have my bachelor’s degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Maryland and always eager to expand my entomology knowledge.


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