From the land of Pokemon, Hello Kitty, and all that is cute come some pretty dangerous creatures of the wild. From bears and wild boar, to centipedes and snakes, to sharks and poisonous jellyfish, there are all sorts of animals in Japan that can do you harm. But by far the most deadly to humans is the Japanese giant hornet. It is the largest of its kind in the world, with adults reaching close to 5 centimeters in length. The hornets are fast, aggressive and venomous, and are responsible for an average of up to 40 human fatalities a year in Japan.
But it isn’t humans who should be most worried about the giant hornet; it’s actually European honeybees, which are plentiful in Japan. You see, giant hornets love to eat honeybees. And since European bees did not evolve in the vicinity of giant hornets, they have no defense against their attack.
The result is a scene straight out of a horror flick. The hornets grab each bee, decapitate it with their powerful, scissor-like jaws, rip off their limbs, and take the big juicy thorax as their prize. A single Japanese hornet can kill an average of 40 European bees a minute. This means, a swarm of 30 hornets can wipe out a colony of 10,000 bees in just an hour. Now that’s a massacre!
But what about the Japanese bees? Well, over thousands of years they’ve developed a clever defense against these voracious predators, and it involves heat. Japanese honeybees can survive temperatures of up to 50 degrees Celsius, while the giant hornet can only withstand temperatures of up to 46 degrees.
When a hornet comes near, they don’t attack it one-by-one like their European cousins do. Instead, they passively lure the hornet inside the hive. At that point, they swarm around the hornet, enclosing it in a tight, vibrating ball of bee bodies. Within minutes they are able to raise the internal temperature of the ball up to 47 degrees. This roasts the giant hornet to death, leaving the bees completely unharmed.
It’s a remarkable solution to what would otherwise be certain death. We often laud humans for their ability to solve problems in new and creative ways. But the solutions that nature provides can be equally, if not more ingenious.
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