The Story Behind the Sting of The Japanese Hornet

Every country is known to have its share of bugs and animals that are notorious for delivering a nasty bite or sting. Examples are the famous and very deadly black widow spider is found in Australia, and a multitude of venomous snakes can be found in the desert areas of the United States. Besides having the propensity for deadly attacks, these bugs and animals have all the capability to make sure that whatever they did to wound you will hurt – a lot. One of these bugs is the Japanese hornet.

Information About the Culprit

In Japan exists a bug called the Japanese giant hornet, which is a subspecies of the Asian giant hornet. It is called “suzumebachi” in Japanese, which translates to giant sparrow bee. Its kingdom is Animalia, the phylum is Arthropoda, the class is Insecta, and order is Hymenoptera. It belongs to the Vespidae family, under the Vespa Genus, classifying it as a Vespa mandarinia. This subspecies is called V. mandarinia japonica.

The Asian giant hornet, the species of which this bug hails from, is known as the biggest hornet in the world. If you’re wondering what the difference between hornets and wasps are, hornets are much bigger than wasps; they measure 1 to 2 inches long compared to the wasp that barely measures an inch. The wingspan of a hornet can reach 2.4 inches long as well. Hundreds of workers create the nesting trend of hornets and are characterized as globular, aerial, and big. Wasps sometimes build their nests underground and can be made by up to thousands of worker wasps.

In terms of what they look like, Hornets have stripes across their abdomen. The Japanese hornet has yellow and brown stripes on its abdomen and possesses 3 eyes mounted on a relatively large head (also yellow). Those three eyes are found in between two other arthropod eyes that are much bigger.

Where Japanese Hornets Live

Around the base areas of mountains and cool forests are where Japanese Hornets thrive. They also go for areas that are used for agriculture. Contrary to what you may think, they aren’t suitable for the tropics, seeking refuge in climates that are just right. Being a hornet, they build nests underground. While farmers do tend to appreciate them warding off agricultural pests, they can be one themselves, attacking farmers who accidentally invaded their nest space. 

The Life of A Japanese Hornet

The Japanese hornet mainly eats other insects, so don’t worry – you’ll rarely see these bugs sucking on flowers. They feed on bugs that hinder crop growth, thus making them favorable to farmers. They catch their prey, pick them apart, and take home the best parts of the meal to make sure their larvae get fed. Workers make sure to save the flight muscles, as well as the thorax for those who need it in the nest – but it doesn’t end there.

Once they bring home the meal, they masticate it and serve this paste to the larvae, birthed by their bigger-than-average queen. The larvae reciprocate by secreting a fluid which is what the worker hornet uses as its main sustenance. “Vespa amino acid mixture” is what scientists refer to this as abbreviated as “VAAM”. Some claim that when humans consume VAAM, it betters their performance when it comes to athletics. Thus, there have been nutritionists and manufacturers who have imitated VAAM to create a synthetic version of it, to sell it as a dietary supplement.

A Delicacy in Some Areas of Japan

The Japanese hornet’s larvae can be consumed. This dish is called “hachinoko”, which, when translated, means “bee children”. You won’t find this in just any restaurant; it’s uncommon throughout Japan but is known as a regional delicacy in the Gifu prefecture, specifically Nakatsugawa and Ena. They sometimes serve it with rice; this dish is called “hebomeshi”. To get a bite of these bugs, you may visit Hachinosu (in English, “Bee’s Nest”) in Gifu. Besides serving Hornets, they also offer horse meat, pickled grasshoppers, and other interesting dishes.

In the prefecture of Kumamoto, one man enjoys drinking his Shōchū by infusing it with live hornets. Yes, they need to be alive – just so as they drown in the Shōchū, they thrash around, releasing their venom into the alcohol. After, it’s sealed off, only to be enjoyed three years later.

The Murder of the European Honey Bees

Japanese hornets do not like other bees. Beekeepers use the European honeybee species because of their usefulness and easiness to deal with in producing honey. Any nearby Japanese hornets will not like the idea of this. A simple detection of the presence of any other beehive will upset the Hornets, triggering a rampage waged by the hornet. It will excrete pheromone markers surrounding the area so that other workers are called to help destroy the beehive.

It can’t be that bad, right? They fight for a bit but there aren’t any major casualties? Wrong. Truth is, give just 4 hours to 30 hornets ganging up together on a killing spree, and they are capable of murdering 30,000 European honey bees, tearing their nest apart. They do so for a massive feeding frenzy, just as they do with other insects, but this time on a genocidal level.

Then again, that’s just when it comes to European Honey Bees. The local Japanese honey bee is too familiar with the stints of these Japanese hornets. They devised a counterattack; when they detect a hornet is about to plant its pheromones to call its other workers, they lure in the hornet scout by burrowing an opening into their nest. Once the scout nears, hundreds of bees swarm the hornet forming a ball, burning the intruder with their makeshift convection oven from continuous wing vibration and concentration of carbon dioxide.

Excruciating Pain That Comes from A Japanese Hornet Sting

While you aren’t completely likely to die unless you’re allergic or have been stung many times, you will still need that trip to the hospital, because the amount of venom ejected by the Japanese hornet is what makes its sting dangerous. An entomologist named Masato Ono who works at Tamagawa University described the pain that comes from its sting to be like someone is driving a hot nail into his leg.

Be Wary, Be Careful

Remember, these are bugs. They won’t seek you out to hurt you, but once you provoke them just a little bit, prepare to be stung. If you see one flying around your area, it’s best to make your way out of there, and not risk it finding you a threat by any means. Their stingers measure around 6.25 millimeters. They can travel as far as 60 miles away from their colony, and can go as fast as 25 miles per hour – it’ll be quite difficult to outrun that.

Also, do not try to kill them. Even if you successfully swat a hornet, it will leave those pheromones behind again, calling its friends to wage a war on you if ever any other Hornet passes by the murder scene.

Where the Japanese Hornet Sting Rates on the Pain Index

On the Schmidt insect sting pain index, the Asian Giant Hornet, which the Japanese hornet is a subspecies of, rates at a 2 on a scale from 1 to 4. The pain from being stung lasts 10 minutes. The least painful stings, as a point of reference, come from the Western Paper Wasp and White Faced Bee, which are rated at 1, and whose painful symptoms last only around 2 minutes. The worst offender of them all is not a wasp, but an ant – the Bullet Ant, whose sting is rated at level 4, for a staggering 300 minutes. Maybe the Japanese Hornet isn’t as villainous as it seems.

What Are the Side Effects of The Sting of the Japanese Hornet?

The Japanese hornet is known to be Japan’s most lethal animal, as humorously suggested, right next to the human species, which scores as the most lethal animal. Every summer (June - September), an average of around 40 people are killed by these aggressive insects.

About that lethal sting – the reason it’s so much more painful compared to a regular wasp is mostly that of the amount it carries, as well as the fact that out of all wasp venoms, this one is the deadliest. When the venom meets the bloodstream, the first thing it goes for is tissue damage, and then the next thing it attacks is the nervous system with its other neurotoxin, mandaratoxin. It can also damage your kidneys to the point of failure. Another vicious ingredient in the venom is "cytolytic peptide", which reacts with cells by making them self-digest, or swell to the point of bursting.

Did A Japanese Hornet Sting You? Here are Some Treatment Methods

The Hornet, unlike the bee, leaves no stinger behind when it attacks. Its venom also works a little differently, thus it should be treated a bit differently as well. The first thing you should do once you’re bitten is to wash the area with soap and water to remove any traces of venom. To decrease the swelling and redness, find an ice pack to place on top of it immediately. Next, check if you’re getting any immediate allergic reactions – anaphylactic shock is usually what happens in those who are particularly allergic. If they’re abrupt and intense, hopefully, you have an epi-pen nearby to use, and call emergency services.

If the allergic symptoms are slower than that, you may opt to orally take an antihistamine, and/or rub ointments that include antihistamines and pain-numbing properties. To relieve the pain, you may take a paracetamol or aspirin, if you have no allergic reactions to those medicines. Watch the area that was stung, and observe yourself for any other reactions your body may be making. More than anything else, take yourself to the E.R. of the nearest hospital just to make sure that you are properly treated for whatever problems the venom may have caused in your body. Although it is said that you’re only in the danger zone if you get stung 30 times, you can never be too careful.

Continue Care to Avoid Infection on The Wound from A Japanese Hornet Sting

Avoid scratching the affected area to avoid irritating and turning it into an infection. Keep it dry and clean during the healing process as much as possible. What usually happens after a sting is you’ll notice some local reactions, one of them being a welt around the area of the sting. Each person is different. If your body is a little more allergic to it, the affected area may swell a bit more and stay for longer, thus the term “large local reaction”. This means you’ll need a little bit more extra care; more attention using cold packs, more antihistamines.

If Your Dog Took a Sting from A Japanese Hornet, Here’s What to Do

In case your beloved pooch was popped with a stinger, observe where it was stung, and how the dog is currently reacting. You may not have been present when your dog took the sting, but you’ll notice that they may be chewing on their paws a bit too much, or trying not to walk on it. If you see a hornet flying around, it is the likely perpetrator. Why? Because hornets make their nests on the ground and are most likely to sting your pup for unknowingly trotting around its hive.

Treatment methods for dogs in this situation are quite like the treatment method used for humans. Clean the area that was stung. Vinegar is a venom neutralizer, so you may pour on some of that on the wound. Next, apply a cold compress, and find a doggy-friendly antihistamine. Dogs may also have an allergic reaction to the venom and may have their windpipes swell up to the point that they can’t breathe, so it’s crucial to watch out for this.

A Part of Nature

There’s no need to worry that these hornets are going to sting you on your trip to Japan. If you do see one, just calmly walk away, and avoid areas that they are known to inhabit. They’re a part of nature and a part of the lovely country that is Japan.