The Asian giant Hornet (Vespa mandarinia) is a species of hymenopterans insect of the family Vespidae. It has a length of 5 cm and a wingspan of 7.5 cm. In Summer 2013, swarms killed dozens of people in China and injured more than 1,500 with its powerful venomous sting. Photo: indagadores.wordpress.com

By Madison Park, Dayu Zhang, and Elizabeth Landau
3 October 2013

HONG KONG (CNN) – A thumb-sized wasp with an orange head has killed dozens of people in China and injured more than 1,500 with its powerful venomous sting.

The Asian giant hornet, known scientifically as Vespa mandarinia, carries a venom that destroys red blood cells, which can result in kidney failure and death, said Justin O. Schmidt, an entomologist at the Southwest Biological Institute in Tucson, Arizona.

But perhaps a bigger problem than the toxicity of the venom is allergy, Schmidt says. Some people are naturally more allergic to stinging insects than others; a sting can trigger a deadly anaphylactic reaction, which may involve airway closure or cardiac arrest.

The giant hornets, the largest hornet species in the world, have killed 42 people and injured 1,675 people in three cities in Shaanxi province since July, according to the local government. Thirty-seven patients remain in critical or serious condition.

In person, the Asian giant hornet looks like "the wasp analog of a pit bull" with "a face that looks like you just can't reason with it," said Christopher K. Starr, professor of entomology at University of West Indes in Trinidad & Tobago.

These hornets are found throughout East and Southeast Asia, in countries such as in China, Korea, Japan, India, and Nepal.

And they're big. The giant hornet extends about 3.5 to 3.9 centimeters in length (1.4 to 1.5 inches), roughly the size of a human thumb, and it has black tooth used for burrowing, according to an animal database at the University of Michigan. The queens are even bigger, with bodies that can grow longer than 5 centimeters (2 inches). […]

Over the summer and early fall, hornets have invaded schools full of children and descended upon unsuspecting farm workers in China.

One of them is Mu Conghui, who was attacked in Ankang City while looking after her millet crop.

"The hornets were horrifying," she told Xinhua, the Chinese state-run news agency. "They hit right at my head and covered my legs. All of a sudden, I was stung, and I couldn't move.

"Even now, my legs are covered with sting holes."

Two months, 13 dialysis treatments and 200 stitches later, Mu still remains hospitalized and unable to move her legs. […]

Local authorities have deployed thousands of police officers and locals to destroy the hives. About 710 hives have been removed and at least 7 million yuan (about $1.1 million U.S.) sent to areas affected by hornets, according to a government press release.

The spate of attacks could be caused by the unusually dry weather in the area, authorities say. The arid environment makes it easier for hornets to breed. Urbanization could also be a contributing factor, as humans move into hornets' habitats.

Some experts cited in Xinhua stated additional factors such as increased vegetation and a decrease in the hornets' enemies, such as spiders and birds, because of ecological changes.

In other words, it's a good season for the hornet population, which makes it a bad season for people who encounter them. [more]

Deadly giant hornets kill 42 people in China

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