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BEEWARE; Brits could feel the sting of giant hornet's invasion.

Byline: Craig McQueen

THERE are plenty of us who run away as soon as we spot a bee or a wasp.

And for those who suffer allergic reactions to stings, the summer months can be a big worry.

But things are about to get even worse.

A new predator looks likely to arrive on our shores - and it will be nothing like any other flying beastie we've encountered.

The Asian giant hornet has already terrorised the south of France, where it has become a common sight in recent years.

And global warming means this massive insect could soon make the short hop across the English Channel.

The wasp-like creature can grow to two inches long with a wingspan of three inches. It can fly at 25mph and cover 60 miles a day.

It is known for being extremely aggressive and attacking and destroying the hives of honeybees.

The Asian giant hornet is most commonly found in mountainous areas of Japan as well as China, Korea, Taiwan, Nepal, India and Sri Lanka but reached Europe in 2004 - most likely in a consignment of Chinese plant pots.

The warm climate allowed it to survive in the south of France, where it has become a major threat to the region's honeybee population.

Groups of between five and 50 of these hornets will attack a beehive by picking off single honeybees, decapitating them and stripping off their wings before using the bodies to feed their young.

Soon the hornets will have weakened the hive to the point where they can enter it and quickly destroy it.

A single hornet can kill up to 40 bees in a minute, and 30 of them can destroy an entire hive of 30,000 honeybees in just three hours.

With the number of bees in Britain already decreasing at an alarming rate, the arrival of an aggressive new predator is worrying.

But there's even more reason for concern, because there were a number of incidents in France last year where humans were attacked by swarms of Asian giant hornets.

Last August, a mother who was outside with her five-month-old baby was attacked by hundreds of the insects, who then turned on a neighbour who tried to help her.

The same swarm then pursued two passers-by before attacking two tourists on bikes, who had to be treated for multiple stings.

While such incidents are rare, it caused local councils to warn people with bee allergies to be extremely cautious and to seek help when they discover a hornets' nest.

The reason for such caution becomes clear when you study the sting of the Asian giant hornet.

One Japanese insect expert described being stung by one of the creatures as like having a hot nail driven into his leg.

THE hornets have a potent venom containing at least eight chemicals, one of which is an enzyme capable of dissolving human tissue.

At least one of the chemicals also contains an odour which attracts more hornets.

While the venom isn't quite as potent as that of some other species of bees and hornets, the size of the Asian giant hornet means its stings are more toxic.

Attacks can be fatal, with multiple stings being especially dangerous.

About 40 people die each year after being stung by giant hornets, mainly as a result of an allergic reaction to the venom.

The hornets themselves have very few predators, which means they can spread quickly.

However, honeybees in Asia have at least found a defence mechanism that allows them to fight back. When a hornet attacks, worker bees will swarm tightly around it, eventually killing it through heatstroke.

The problem is that honeybees in Europe haven't yet developed this tactic.

The looming invasion might not be all bad news, though.

Some villagers in Japan value the hornets as part of their diet and eat them deep fried. They are said to taste delicious and are a good source of protein.

Several companies in Asia and Europe have even developed a synthetic version of the secretions produced by the hornet's larvae.

It's these secretions which adult hornets feed on, and they are said to give them their strength and endurance.

Marketed as "hornet juice", the makers claim the product can have similar effects on humans and boost athletic performance - and some marathon runners credit it for improving their race times.

OTHER SMALL INSECTS THAT ARE A BIG PAIN

The African ant

A single colony of African ants can total 20million and obliterate everything in its path. They are most dangerous during food shortages. Each year, there are cases of people dying from suffocation after not getting out of their path quick enough.

The wheel bug

One of North America's largest insects, it pierces its prey with a large beak before injecting enzymes to paralyse and dissolve it. Being bitten by a wheel bug is excruciating for a human. A wound can take months to heal and will leave a noticeable scar.

The spined assassin

This dark red and brown bug is covered in spines. If hungry, it will resort to cannibalism and eat its siblings. Bites are painful and can cause a burning, itching sensation, as well as swelling.

The fire ant

The fire ant takes its name from its venomous sting that burns beneath the skin. A few small stings can be quickly treated and cured but when the ants swarm, which they often do, being attacked can be lethal.

The African assassin bug

A voracious hunter, this insect's venom is 10 times deadlier than a cobra's. They are capable of downing prey larger than themselves and are reputed to be one of the deadliest types of insects in the world.

CAPTION(S):

AGGRESSIVE ATTACK: A giant hornet devours a honeybee CREATING A BUZZ OF FEAR: The Asian giant hornet kills about 40 people each year
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Title Annotation:Editorial
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Apr 16, 2010
Words:972
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