Deadly Hornet Attack in China: What Happens When Vespa Mandarinia Stings?

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The world's largest hornet packs a punch when it stings, leaving what looks to be bullet wounds in a person. Image by Gary Alpert

The world’s largest hornet packs a punch when it stings, leaving what looks to be bullet wounds in a person. Image by Gary Alpert

In the Shaanxi province of China, swarms of hornets have injured 1,675 people and have killed 42 people since July. Thirty-seven of these patients remain in critical or serious condition, according to CNN.

These aggressive hornets are in their fall mating season and have invaded schools and attacked farmers. Why are these stings so painful and damaging?

Asian Hornets: How Much Do They Hurt?

First of all, the Asian Hornet is huge. Also known as vespa mandarinia, they’re four and a half 4.5 centimeters long; about the size of an adult thumb. That makes them five times the size and 20 times as heavy as their honey bee prey.

Vespa Mandarinia has a six millimeter stinger – that’s about as long as a pencil eraser – that leaves large holes if they sting you, and can cause serious injuries.

Giant Hornet Stings: Toxicity

These stings aren’t your average bee stings. Their stinger is huge, and although their venom isn’t as toxic as a honeybee, they pump a huge quantity into their victims, so they’re considerably more painful. Phospholipase enzymes in the venom have a hemolytic effect – that means the venom makes you bleed. There’s also a potent neurotoxin called mandaratoxin.

If you’ve been stung, particularly multiple times, doctors have to use dialysis treatments to remove the toxins in order to avoid a severe allergic reaction or potentially, multiple organ failure.

  • A farmer, Mu Conghui, in Ankang city, said that she was stung on her legs and couldn’t move, according to CNN News. The inability to move is due to the neurotoxicity of the venom – it disrupts signals within your central nervous system. After two months, 200 stitches, and 13 dialysis treatments, the farmer is still in the hospital and unable to move her legs.
Their nests can be hidden under leaves, brush, in tree trunks, and other well hidden places. Image by Alpsdake

Their nests can be hidden under leaves, brush, in tree trunks, and other well hidden places. Image by Alpsdake

  • The Guardian reports that in September, a swarm of hornets came through an elementary school and injured 23 children and seven adults. A teacher told the students to hide under their desks while he fought off the hornets until he lost consciousness.

Preventing Hornet Attacks

According to CNN News, local police officers and firefighters have been instructed to destroy the hives to prevent further attacks. So far, they have destroyed over 700 hives, and provided over a million dollars in aid to those affected by these hornets.

According to authorities, the increase in attacks could be due to the extremely dry weather the area is experiencing, which makes it easier for the hornets to breed.

Urbanization could also be a factor as people are moving into the hornets habitat. The decrease in spiders and birds, which are the hornets enemies have also decreased, playing a role in the increase of these hornets. Authorities have told residents to wear long sleeves when going outside and not to attempt to fight off swarms of hornets or destroy the hives.

Avoid the Giant Wasps: Don’t Run, Don’t Sweat, and Don’t Drink Alcohol or Kool-Aid!

The giant wasps are attracted to human sweat, alcohol, sweet smells and flavors, according to CNN News. They are also more reactive when animals or humans are running. According to the Guardian, this is the worst year for these deadly hornet, between the years of 2002 and 2005, only 36 people died of hornet attacks – but China has surpassed that number in just one summer.

Resources:

Abe, T.; Kawai, N.; Niwa, A. Purification and properties of a presynaptically acting neurotoxin, mandaratoxin, from hornet (Vespa mandarinia). (1982). Biochemistry 21 (7): 1693–1697.

Abe T, Sugita M, Fujikura T, Hiyoshi J, Akasu M. Giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia) venomous phospholipases. The purification, characterization and inhibitory properties by biscoclaurine alkaloids. (2000).  Toxicon.

Tuĭchibaev MU, Iakubov IT, Rakhimov MM, Tashmukhamedov BA. Properties of phospholipase A2 from the venom of the large hornet Vespa orientalis. (1984). Biokhimiia.

CNN News. Deadly hornets kill 42 people in China, injure over 1,500. October 3, 2013. Accessed October 4, 2013.

Encyclopedia of Life. Vespa Mandarinia. Accessed October 4, 2013.

The Guardian. The Chinese city living in fear of giant killer hornets. October 4, 2013. Accessed October 4, 2013.

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