While we’re rightly worrying about the diminishing numbers of honeybees and the crop apocalypse that could occur with their demise, other creatures with stingers seem to getting … bigger. Earlier this year, a Wallace’s giant bee (Megachile pluto), measuring a whopping 1.5 inches and thought to be extinct, was found alive and stinging in Indonesia. Meh, say researchers in China who this week announced the discovery of a new species of Godzilla (uh-oh) hornet that is nearly an inch longer than the giant bee, has a 3.9 inch wingspan and a quarter-inch stinger (ouch!). With those measurements, it’s either the world’s biggest hornet or the world’s smallest fighter jet. This being China … it could be both!
The Godzilla or killer hornet was discovered near the Myanmar border in the city of Pu’er in the Yunnan province of southwestern China. It was brought to Zhao Li, the curator of the Insect Museum of West China in Sichuan Province, who determined it was a new species in the Vespa mandarinia family. Vespa mandariana is already the world’s largest hornet and one of the deadliest, deserving of its other nickname – ‘yak killer’. These are not the yellow-legged or Asian hornets (Vespa velutina) which are an invasive now found across Europe and the UK (too late for a hornet Brexit). The yak killers only live (so far) in tropical eastern China in low mountains and forest areas. Zhao Li measured this specimen at six cm (2.3 inches) in length, a wingspan close to 10 cm (3.9 inches) and that 6.35 mm (.254 inch) stinger. (See a picture here.) Being a good entomologist, Zhao Li warned that the specimen was a worker and the queen would be even larger. Ahhh!
At least the Godzilla hornet only attacks larger insects like mantises and the occasional yak, right? Wrong! Asian giant hornets feed on honey and will attack entire colonies of defenseless honeybees to get to it. They also attack other hornet species and have been known to attack hives of their own species in order to bring protein-rich larvae to feed their queen. Moving up the biological scale, Asian giant hornets use their quarter-inch stinger to deliver a venom containing a toxin that causes tissue damage. Multiple stings by a swarm of giant hornets have been lethal to humans, even if they’re not allergic to the venom. In 2013, stings by Asian giant hornets killed 41 people and injured more than 1,600 in Shaanxi Province alone. Don’t bother running and hiding – they’re the only species of social wasps that mark their food source with a scent and return with a hunting party.
It’s a good thing there are professional giant hornet exterminators, right? Wrong! Godzilla hornets are the most difficult to kill. Exterminators resort to beating them with clubs (slow), removing nests (they’re huge), traps (expensive), poison (bad for other insects) and screens that only let honeybees in (leaving the angry hornets to attack humans instead).
Is there any good news about this new discovery of the world’s largest and deadliest hornet? Well, that larva that the queens eat is potentially good for improving human endurance and is being marketed in China as a “hornet juice” nutritional supplement.
You’ll be able to spot the users at the next Olympics – they’ll be the ones wearing gold medals and thanking their mom, God and the giant killer hornets.