Ever since I’ve been living in Japan, I have been also sharing this country with its most dangerous predator. It’s two inches long, has a total wingspan of six inches, preys on other insects, has a 1-and-a-half-inch stinger, devastates European honeybee hives, and has also been known to kill, on average, 40 people a year. She’s what Freddie Mercury would call a “Killer Queen.”
She is the Asian Giant Hornet, and these beasts are every bit as fearsome as they seem. They look you right in the eye. They hover. They threaten. They do destroy. But, are they as deadly as the latest New York Times article, which also cites CNN as a “source,” claim that they are?
As i said, I’ve been living in Japan with these monsters for the last 9 years, and I keep going. While I find myself wanting to leave this country more and more every day, I can’t say that it’s because of these guys. Every time I venture out into the wilderness, I’m afraid of finding one of these bastards waiting for me. A few years ago, I walked out of my house only to find about ten of them in a hunting party, waiting in attack formation. They were apparently hunting a honeybee hive some kilometers away and my house was on their flight plan. I dodged and ran away, screaming like a little girl.
“The giant hornets are attracted to human sweat, alcohol and sweet flavors and smells,” CNN reported. “They are especially sensitive to when animals or people run.”The Daily Wire
Theoretically, I should’ve been stung to death.
They did not pursue.
While the mainstream media, both left and right, are working to introduce to you the next boogeyman after COVID-19 is finished (and folks, we are reaching the finish line), I want to give my expert opinion (having studied these insects since I moved here) as well as give you facts about the Asian Giant Hornet.
Scientific Name: They are a species of Vespa mandarinia.
Appearance: They basically look like Godzilla-sized, orange yellow jackets. They are closely related to them.
Species Diversity: Asian Giant Hornets come in multiple varieties and are identified by their Japanese names.
(From smallest to largest):
1. Ki-iro Suzumebachi (Yellow Giant Hornet) – They are the smallest of the “giant hornets.” They are, literally, king-sized yellow jackets. Slightly larger, and their at-rest wing posture makes them look like wasps rather than the true hornets they are. Their hives are built usually in awnings, underneath gutters, or high in trees. Its venom is the deadliest of the entire bunch.
2. Hime Suzumebachi (Princess Giant Hornet) – This looks like their much larger brethren, but have a lot less painful sting, but it is the most deadliest, second to the Ki-iro at number 1. They tend to nest in bushes and trees, at a medium-altitude.
3. Kogata Suzumebachi – It’s easy to get a kogata confused from an oo-suzumebach (which is number 5, and the largest, on our list). If your eye can’t tell the difference, follow it back to its nest. It’s usually either in a high tower, at the highest point in your house if you have a home invasion, or deep inside the trunk of a tree at mid-to-high elevation. They are the most aggressive of the entire family of giant hornets.
4. Kuro Suzumebachi – Kuro means “black,” and that’s exactly what this is. It’s in between the Kogata and the Oo in size, and has the most painful sting of the entire bunch. It gets its name from its color. There’s no striping. No orange or yellow at all. It’s black, hence the name. It’s not as aggressive as the other species, with plenty of YouTube videos of humans, barehanded, getting close to these insects and they don’t even flinch their wings. That is to say, they’re not friendly in the slightest, but aren’t out to get you and they’re difficult to piss off.
5. Oo-Suzumebachi – “Oo,” in Japanese, meaning BIG. These are the ones the mainstream media are trying to make you afraid of. These are the ones whose physical characteristics I described in the opening of this piece. They’re mid-range aggressive but tend to ignore humans unless you piss it off somehow. Pissing it off is, actually, quite a challenge if you see one minding its own business in the wild.
Where Giants Nest – Giants will make their nests underground. They are the only giant hornet species to do so. Their nests are usually underneath a tree or bush, or surrounded by natural barriers if in the middle of the ground, such as deep rock or a garden.
What Pisses Them Off – A few things will get these insects angry. Among them are:
Noise – The vibrations above ground from foot traffic will drive them out.
The Color Black – An experiment on Japanese TV placed a black balloon next to a giant hornet hive (they used Hime Suzumebachi for the experiment since their nests are above ground). They swarmed the black balloon and popped it within minutes. Exterminators use a black-colored boom to drive out drones from Oo Suzumebachi lairs.
Attacking Them – If they happen to fly around you, swatting them is the last thing you should do. Direct assaults will also piss them off.
What to do when They Come – The best thing to do is STOP MOVING if you see one. Then, BACK AWAY SLOWLY. It’s probably watching you to see what you’re doing. They won’t chase you if they see you moving away. Turn around slowly and run like hell!!
If they come after your BBQ, LET THEM HAVE IT! Don’t swat them! Back away. If your first instinct is to drop what you’ve got, even if it will cause an explosion that will bring your house down, DO IT! SURRENDER whatever it is you’re trying to protect. They’re not after your children – they want the meat you’re cooking. They won’t attack YOU if you don’t swat at them. Just run. Grab your kids and go.
What to do if ONE Stings Me – YouTuber Coyote Peterson got stung by one as an experiment when he and his team visited Totori Prefecture. If you are allergic, treat it like a bee sting. Stab yourself with an epi-pen, call for rescue services. Even if you’re not allergic, your body may react differently to the sting. In severe, non-allergic cases, you may require kidney dialysis to curb kidney damage. It’s imperative that you seek shelter and call for rescue services. In light cases, you may end up like Coyote Peterson (I’ll embed his video at the bottom of this piece, feel free to have a look). You’ll look like Popeye for a few days and not like it, but you’ll be fine.
What to do if you take MULTIPLE Stings – Find shelter and call for emergency rescue immediately.
How to Protect Myself – The same way you would protect yourself from any and all stinging insects like bees, wasps, yellow jackets and other hornets.
- Don’t wear colognes or perfumes during the summer. At all! Use unscented deodorants.
- Don’t wear anything black! Wear neutral colors to avoid insects of all types.
- Do not swat at them if they fly by. Let them go. They’re not after you.
- If you’re deathly afraid of them (like me), running in the opposite direction is not going to make them give chase. They’ll leave eventually.
- Use air conditioning. Keep all windows and doors closed. If you have a screen door, make sure it’s free of holes to avoid giving them access to your home. If your screens do have gaps in them, replace it before opening that window.
- If you see them quite often in your area (usually one or two, every day), it means there’s a nest nearby. Call an exterminator promptly.
Japanese schools close when a nest is confirmed to have been found, as these insects will fly into open windows. Japanese schools in poorer communities do not have central air conditioning or individual room units. Those that do have to get permission from the board of education to run them, and with most of them being headed by elderly individuals, permission comes very hard. Thus, when one is found, the school will close until the exterminator can determine where the nest is.
Japanese giant hornets are a specialty in Southern Kyushu and Northeast Honshu. Especially, the larvae. Bees and hornets of all kinds are consumed, but it’s the giants that are by far the meatiest and most nutritious. The term, “hachi-no-ko,” or “child bees,” refers to this. It’s also a way to “get back” at nature for making us live next to such natural scumbags.
The natural habitat of these creatures is usually in wooded areas. They tend to stay far away from cities. However, city parks are fair game. They naturally live, for example, in Yoyogi and Gyouen Parks in Shinjuku (having personally encountered several in the latter during the Summer of ’19). Mostly, these giants are found in and around mountainous areas in Japan.
They have been known to kill 40 people, on average, per year. Compared to the total population in Japan, there are quite a number of 0’s on the right side of the decimal point, making your chance of actually getting killed by one less than getting struck by lightning.
Getting stung, on the other hand, is a much higher percentage.
Most important anecdote to note here, Asian giant hornets have a very strong neruotoxin in their venom known as “mandaratoxin.” The hornets are attracted to this chemical and that’s where the numbers come from. Their sisterhood will come after you but only after you get stung (which is where shelter comes into play).
These hornets are social in their nest but are like cheetahs in the wild. They’re solitary hunter/gatherers. They don’t swarm or attack in packs, unless it’s against an enemy stronghold (beehive in most cases, rival nests in others). A single warrior can take out a quarter of a beehive in a matter of hours. An attack force can finish it off in equal time.
Their only natural enemies are birds and the Japanese honey bee, which can cook a giant scout alive by balling around it and vibrating their abdomens. Other honeybees do not have similar defenses.
Should We Be Afraid Of Them if they Get Widespread?
The short answer: nope!
The long answer isn’t really that much longer, either. You actually have a much higher chance of encountering and getting swarmed by Africanized Honey Bees (the so-called “killer bee”) than you do of encountering, getting stung, and having a reaction bad enough that it requires hospitalization, by a Japanese (Asian) Giant Hornet. These creatures are absolutely beautiful even if they’re the largest stinging insect on this entire planet. If you see one in the wild, respect it from a distance. Use common sense if you have a close encounter with one. Remember, listen to the “flight” reaction when you have a “fight or flight” moment. Run in the other direction. There’s a minuscule chance you’re the one on its list. Unless you’re an actual prey item, they will quickly lose interest in you.
This is not the boogeyman, folks. It will devastate honeybee hives, but even Japanese honeybee keepers prosper. So, it’s not biblical. It’s not the end of all. They are not the boogeymen both sides of the mainstream media seem to be fired up on.
Just remember: fear but respect.
Here’s that sting video I promised earlier.