Like a B movie from the 1970’s, the media overseas has been full of headlines around giant killer asian hornets making their way across Asia and Europe. The shocking factor behind these stinging insects is how painful and life threatening their stings can be. But did you know hornets are so much more than ultimate killing machines?
1. Gentle Giants
A little know fact about hornets as they are actually not as aggressive as one might think.
Like most nest building insects, hornets will usually only attack to defend their colony when they feel it is being threatened. This is mainly only when someone or something comes within close proximity of the nest (the radius of this is usually 2-3m) .
Outside of their nest area hornets have been known to be quite passive creatures. It has been noted by some researchers that hornets are shy, peaceful creatures. They tend to avoid conflict and only attack when they absolutely have to.
2. Hornets are actually wasps
Did you know hornets are actually a subset of wasps. In particular, hornets are a breed of social wasps, living in large, highly organized, colonies.
Hornets belong to the insect family Vespidae. This family contains each species of hornets as well as wasps such as yellow jackets, paper wasps, potter wasps and pollen wasps.
Fun Fact – Bald faced hornets are actually wasps, and do not belong to the hornet family.
The main difference between wasps and hornets is their size. Hornets are relatively larger than wasps, which is one of the main reasons they are so scary, although as previously discussed, they are quite shy. Another difference is the color. Wasps which are usually yellow and black, hornets fare more orangey-red, although this does vary with each species.
3. Hornets build nests below ground
So where do hornets nest? That depends on the species.
Typically, hornets like to build their nests in high areas. These include, but are not limited to:
Hollow tree trunks
Areas that are raised off the ground.
Hornet nests which are elevated are sometimes free-hanging, using a stalk called a petiole which attaches to the nearest object such as a tree branch.
Hornets nest in the ground
Asides from high places, hornets are also known to build their nests in enclosed spaces that provide support and security. Sometimes this can be old, abandoned rodent burrows.
Located within fields, gardens and parks, hornets that build their nests in the ground cause a real risk to humans. Hornet’s nests built in the ground in areas highly populated by humans runs the risk of getting stepped on by accident, causing the hornets to attack the unsuspecting human.
4. Natural Pest Controllers
Hornets are one of mother nature’s pest controllers. With a craving for insects such as aphids, hornets help rid the world of unwanted garden pests which damage resources within an agricultural setting.
What do Hornets eat?
Hornets are known to have a rich diet of sugar and protein among other things.
Sugar – Like other types of wasps, hornets have a real sweet tooth and crave sugary things such as fruit and fizzy drinks.
Sap – Hornets love tree sap! You can often find them using their mandibles to pull back the bark from trees to get to the sticky golden substance.
Protein – Just like other insects within the Vespidae family, their young live off protein which the workers forage for in the form of insects and other animals. In return, the larvae releases a sweet syrup which the adults lap up.
5. Hornets love bees!
Bees are one of a hornet’s favorite things. Not only are they a great source of protein for their future queens, but they provide a sweet, golden, sugar goodness which hornet’s love – honey!
Nearly 5 times the size of a european honey bee, it only takes a small number of giant hornets to wipe out an entire honey bee colony. Their sheer size and power means that one giant hornet can kill roughly 40 bees a minute.
However, Japanese honey bees have developed a cunning tactic to stop these predators from wiping out their colony. As a hornet scout approaches the hive, the honey bees attack her before she can release any pheromones to attract her team mates. A honey bee’s sting and bite is no match for a hornet, so instead they swarm around the lonesome hornet, vibrating their bodies at a tremendous rate. The vibration from the bees causes the temperature to drastically rise, roasting the hornet alive.
This technique is the result of evolution over hundreds of years. Honey bees from the rest of the world have yet to discover this defense mechanism, making them prime targets to giant hornets as they make their way across the globe.
6. Hornet venom can be deadly
The one underlying factor which makes hornets so dangerous is their sting. Although, the likelihood of getting stung by a hornet is very small, when they do decide to attack, it can be fatal.
The main reason a hornet’s sting is so deadly compared to other stinging insects is due to the sheer size of a hornet. Generally, hornet venom isn’t considered that toxic to humans, but due to their size, the amount of venom they release per sting can be harmful. Hornets release more venom per sting than any other stinging insect.
Giant Asian Hornets
These giant stinging insects are loving the spotlight at the moment. Originating in Japan, the giant Asian hornet has quickly made its way across Europe. With a long stinger, and a venom that contains powerful chemicals that can cause havoc to human tissue and nervous systems, these peaceful creatures shouldn’t be messed with.
7. Hornets are a delicacy in Japan
Although hornets are responsible for a percentage of hospital visits in Japan, that doesn’t stop them from snacking on these predatory stinging insects. In many Japanese mountain villages, hornets are considered a delicacy, especially hornet larvae. Often eaten either deep fried or raw, hornets provide a huge amount of protein.
Anyone wanting to try hornets at Pestaurant next year?
Hornet larvae produce a sticky, sweet segregation known as vespa amino acid mixtures (VAAM) which attracts the workers and gives them energy. VAAM is also used in a popular Japanese energy drink.
If red bull gives you wings, what would a hornet energy drink give you?
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"Sean is an Online Content and Social Media Specialist at Rentokil North America. He oversees the company's Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn company pages and is the editor of the deBugged blog and Greener on the Inside blog. Follow Sean on Google+