These Killer Insects Are a Lot Closer to Home Than You Think

If you aren't afraid of bees now, you will be after you read this

Flickr User t-mizo (via Creative Commons)

I'm a lifelong sufferer of apiphobia and a firm believer that Asia is the best place in the world to travel, so when I learned of the existence of the Asian Giant Hornet and that it inhabits some of my favorite places in Asia, I was disappointed. And that was simply after looking upon the beasts!

Further investigation into the nature of these Asian killer bees, not to mention their behavior and potentially lethal capability, has made me positively petrified. If you're not currently afraid of bees, I think that's probably going to change after reading this article.

What is the Asian Giant Hornet?

Although people unlucky enough to live where it resides have long feared it, the Asian Giant Hornet made international headlines in 2013, when a swarm of them killed 42 people in rural southwestern China. Those lucky enough to survive the stings were left not only with wounds resembling bullet holes, but with kidney damage, which in some of the cases will last a lifetime.

Part of the reason Asian Giant Hornets are so deadly, even if you don't encounter a swarm of them, is that they don't die when they sting you. In fact, they don't even lose their stingers, are most other bee and wasps species do, so they can sting you multiple times if they're especially agitated. And they usually are!

Where Does the Asian Giant Hornet Live?

Known scientifically as Vespa mandarina (that sounds lovely, doesn't it?), the Asian Giant Hornet can be found all over Asia, from Taiwan, to mainland China, to Southeast Asia and west into India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. It's most common, however, in the mountains of Japan, something that's all too personal for me.

I'm hiking the country's historical Nakasendo trail, you see, and today I had several close calls with the hornets. Luckily, they didn't attack me (although, as you'll read below, they probably should have), probably thanks to the fast pace I was walking anyway, given the threat of bear encounters in these woods. 

(Side note: For such a futuristic, built-up country, Japan sure does have terrifying nature!)

The bad news is that in the future, you probably won't have to travel to Asia to encounter the Asian giant hornet. any scientists believe that the spread of Asian Giant Hornets over the years has been due to climate change, from regional droughts to rising temperatures across the board. Milder winters results in fewer of the creatures dying each year, and scarcity of water and other resources make them even more hostile than they would usually be.

How Can Travelers Protect Themselves from the Asian Giant Hornet?

To be sure, although most wilderness creatures run (or fly, as it were) in fear upon hearing the stomping of a human or similarly large mammal, Asian Giant Hornets hear our steps as a call to arms, which says nothing of their attraction to our sweat, the sweet substances we consume and even some of the colors we wear.

The good news is that authorities in certain countries are attempting to destroy Asian Giant Hornet nests, which resemble large basketballs dangling from trees, cliff faces and other high places. The bad news is that doing so is dangerous and, thus far, only minimally effective, especially given the aforementioned spread of the species due to climate change.

If you travel in Asia and you see one of two of these creatures, stay calm and don't panic. If you hear loud buzzing and notice a swarm, however, you should really run for cover as fast as possible. Regardless of which action you take or what fate befalls you, don't say I didn't warn you!