Deadly hornets descend upon northern China

science | Oct 03, 2013 | By Martin Barillas

An incident reminiscent of Biblical plagues descended on a village in northern China. It was there that swarms of huge and deadly hornets have killed more than 40 people and injured 1,600 more. Currently, 37 patients are in critical or guarded condition in hospitals in Shaanxi province. Photographs show that victims suffered wounds resembling the impacts of bullets that left deep, dark craters on their unprotected skin. A victim told local media “the more you run, the more they want to chase you.” Some victims were chased for more than 650 feet by the swarms.
 
The sting of the hornet has been compared to a hot nail being driven into the body.
 
Experts believe that swarms of Asian giant hornets Vespa mandarinia are responsible for the attack. They are each four times the size of an ordinary honey bee: approximately 2 inches long and sporting a quarter-inch long stinger.  Local firefighters are seeking to destroy the nests of the nettlesome hornets. The government has also sent a special medical team and personnel to treat the victims. The provincial government said hornets are most aggressive when they mate and migrate in September and October. Recent dry and warm weather this year has contributed to the ferocity of attacks.
 
The head of the Vespa mandarinia is orange in color and is wider in comparison to those of other hornets. It is quite predatory, hunting medium- to large-sized insects, such as bees, other hornet species, and mantises. Attacks are difficult to prevent because their nests are usually in hidden sites.
 
One victim has spent two months in hospital undergoing 13 dialysis treatments. She now has 200 stitches and still cannot move her legs. Recounting her attack, she said “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.”
An expert in Japan said that he understood that most of the deaths were due to allergic reactions. He said that he venom of an Asian giant hornet is very special compared with other hornets or yellow jackets, since its neurotoxin is especially harmful to humans and other mammals. 
 
Asian hornets have naturalized in France, devastating the honey bee population there. It is currently found in 39 of Franc’s 100 administrative departments. Honey production has crashed in France. The hornets are able to destroy 30,000 bees in a couple of hours, picking them off as they leave the hive until the colony is so exhausted that the hornets can move in and ransack it. Working in swarms, the hornets hover in front of a beehive, picking off single honeybees, decapitating them and stripping off their wings and legs before making off with the “meat ball” to feed their young. Beekeepers in Great Britain are worried that should the hornets jump the English Channel, their own bees will be at stake. They are already contending with another Asian invader – the varroa mite – that feeds on bees and makes their hives susceptible to disease.  In Chinese, the hornets are called 'hu feng.'


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Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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