Vespa mandarinia commonly referred to as murder hornets are invasive insects that are native to Japan. They live in forests and low altitude mountains.
Murder hornets, growing up to 2 inches long (5cm) with a wingspan of about 3 inches (8cm) although, the queens and workers differ in size. V. mandarinia has a large armored-looking helmet head that is matte orange-yellow. It possess a set of compound eyes that ranges from dark brown to black with 3 simple eyes that are similar in color to the compound eyes. It’s antenna are typically a medium or dark shade of brown with yellow-orange scapes. They have large mandibles shaped like spiked shark fins, that is deep-orange hue with a black tooth used for burrowing. The thorax is dark brown with a prominent scutellum impressed with a medial line. The banding on the abdomen (gaster) is dark brown with alternate orange-yellow bands. The last segment of V. mandarinia is uniformly yellow. The head, thorax and abdomen have varying densities of setae (hairs). It’s 2 pairs of wings are grey and forelegs are brighter with dark tarsi while the mid and hind legs are dark brown throughout. The possession of the stinger which reaches up to 6mm distinguishes the female reproductives (queens) and non-reproductive workers from the stingless males.
Murder hornets are exceptional fliers reaching up to 20 miles per hour. They are eusocial species, territorial and aggressive when provoked. These insects are referred to as murder hornets because they kill and eat other insects and regurgitate a fine paste back to their young to feed on.
In Japan, hornets have been reported to kill up to 50 people a year. With a stinger that is long enough to puncture a beekeeping suit, the excruciating pain from their sting is said to be like having red-hot metal driven into one’s flesh. The stingers deliver seven times the amount of venom as honey bee. Attacking in groups, they can kill humans even if they are not allergic but they prey mostly on honey bees. They secrete a pheromone and mark honey bee hives with scents to attract other hornets. They decimate honey bees hives decipitating the bees. They can take out a colony of bees in a few hours. According to Vox, murder hornets can rip through about 40 honey bees per minute, tearing off their heads and spiriting away the thoraxes to feed their young. In November 2019, It was reported in the United States, a beekeeper found his hives reduced to a pile of bee heads detached from their bee bodies.
Some honey bees are known to fight back using a natural defense mechanism called “Heat Balling”. Once the honey bees detects the pheromone the murder hornet used to mark their hive for future attacks, they respond by forming a ball around the hornet. They vibrate their wings the same way they warn their nest in the winter. The resulting friction raises the carbon dioxide concentration and temperature to 116 degrees Fahrenheit (47 degrees Centigrade) which is lethal to the hornet but not to the bees. The honey bees kill the hornet before it can report the location of the beehive to its nest mates. They literally choke and cook their predator to death.
In Asia, murder hornets are sometimes eaten or used as nutritional supplement. They also add pizzazz to liquor.
Conservation Status: There are no current efforts to conserve this specie. IUCN Red List (Not Evaluated).
Tags: Wildlife Wednesday, Murder Hornets, Honey Bees, Eusocial, Decimate, Decipitate, Vespa mandarinia, Stinger, Territorial, Heat Balling, United States, Venom, Pheromone, Scent Marking.