Did You Know?
Owing to its large size, the killer hornet is also called sparrow bee in Japan.
The killer hornet (Vespa mandarinia), also referred to as the Asian giant hornet, is the largest hornet in the world. It is known to be very aggressive in nature and has the tendency to attack in swarms, stinging its prey repeatedly to death. The insect attacks anything it come across; humans are no exception. Every year, several human deaths are attributed to killer hornet stings.
As the name suggests, the Asian giant hornet is primarily found in Japan, Russia, China, Korea, Nepal, and India. Native to the temperate and tropical regions of eastern Asia, the species has even migrated to various other parts of the world. The highest concentration of this insect though, is seen in Japan and Malaysia. In fact, large hornet nests are commonplace in the mountainous regions of Japan.
Generally, the killer hornet can grow to a length of approximately 2 inches. The queen hornet is slightly bigger in size, growing up to a length of 2.2 inches. It sports a wingspan of 3 inches, which comes handy in flight. It has the ability of flying at the speed of 25 - 30 mph and can easily cover a distance of 60 miles in a day. Its bright orange head is relatively larger than that of other hornet species and gives it a distinct, scary appearance. Its eyes and antenna are dark brown in color, while rest of the body is dark brown, orange, and yellow, which makes it resemble the European hornet to a certain extent.
Predatory Behavior and Feeding Habits
Being predatory insects, killer hornets hunt in groups and feed on larger insects, mantises, and other hornet species. A swift predator, a single killer hornet can kill approximately 40 honey bees per minute. They attack bee hives in large swarms and feed on honey bees and their larvae. Even a small swarm of hornets can easily destroy a 30,000 member bee colony in no time. After the entire bee swarm is finished, they carry the bee larvae to their own nests to feed their larvae. Adult killer hornets cannot eat solid protein. They chew the honey bee larvae and feed it to the larvae of their own. After eating, the larvae produces a clear liquid referred to as the 'vespa amino acid mixture', which is eventually consumed by adults.
Sting and Venom
One of the most fascinating aspect of the killer hornet is its agonizing sting. It uses its 6 mm sting to inject the potent venom into its prey. The venom contains a cytolytic peptide which stimulates the phospholipase action and damages tissues to cause death. Owing to the presence of mandaratoxin, a neurotoxin, the venom can turn out to be lethal for humans, if injected in significant amount. The enzymes present in its venom are so strong that they can even dissolve human tissues. Death though, is attributed to anaphylactic shock, an allergic reaction known to make the person lose consciousness and lead to breathing failure.
Even though the powerful insect is seldom threatened by any predator, it does suffer from human encroachment in its natural habitat just like most members of kingdom Animalia. In fact, loss of habitat due to human intervention is responsible for the drastic depletion in killer hornet population. Additionally, in Japan, it is considered a delicacy, owing to which the Japanese indulge in their hunting despite the risk involved.