The Japanese Giant Wasp: Evil by association?

I’ve mentioned Japanese (Giant) hornets a couple times on Tofugu, but they’ve never gotten their own post. That has made these giant Japanese Hornets angry… and you don’t want to see these things angry, trust me. This post is part of a week long series leading up to Halloween, covering scary things. Want to see them all? Be sure to check out the scary tag. So, are you ready to be terrified?

First, A Little Background

The Japanese Giant Hornet (also known as Vespa Mandarinia Japonica for all you science people out there) is called 大雀蜂 (おおすずめばち) for a reason. This translates to “giant sparrow bee” in English, which really sums up how big it is. Sure, sparrows aren’t all that big when compared to other birds… but if you’re comparing a bug to a sparrow? That’s friggin’ huge. I’m scared enough of regular bees. Who knows what’s going on in their little, devious brains.

These “little” guys get over 1.6 inches long (some say up to 2, but that seems too terrifying for me to imagine) and have a wingspan of over 2.5 inches. Basically, it looks like a giant bee. They nest in trees, and tend to live in more rural areas (like around mountains, and stuff).

Unlike a lot of bees or hornets, they’re predators. They kill all kinds of insects, and are actually considered beneficial to farmers because they kill a lot of the bugs that tend to be crop pests.

But, they’re not all good. Although their weight to venom ratio isn’t actually that bad compared to other hornets, they’re deadly because they can inject so much venom with each sting. Around 40 people a year die from Japanese Giant Hornet stings, and if you’re bitten you’ll need to get to a hospital. The sting itself is super painful (I hear) and the venom attacks the nervous system as well as damages tissues.

Still, these Japanese Giant Hornets tend to be nice unless provoked… so, just be nice to them, okay? Don’t forget your pleases and thank yous.

Mass Murderer Of Bees

japanese giant hornetSee, I didn’t do it! The bite marks don’t fit!

We’ll start with what they’re most known for… 30 Japanese Giant Hornets killing 30,000 European Honey Bees. That means each Japanese Hornet has to take out ONE THOUSAND European honey bees in order to do their share. Holy crap.

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And again, in case the first one wasn’t enough… you monster.

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In order to do this, there are scout hornets who show up at nests and leave pheromone markers. Then, other Japanese Hornets who are part of the same nest all show up to kill everything. They can kill around 40 European Honey Bees per minute, dismembering them as they go. I’m sure you’ve already watched the video above, but there are heads and thoraxes and legs and wings everywhere. It’s a MASSACRE. When the Anakin Skywalker Honey Bee gets back to the nest he’ll be very upset about this.

Anakin Bee: Hey guys! I got some great nectar today. Buzz buzz.


Anakin Bee: This isn’t funny, stop it! Charlie, where’d you go, buddy?


Anakin Bee: C’mon, fellahs. I have this sweet nectar and…

[Anakin Bee walks into hive, adjusts to darkness to look around]

Now, if you noticed, we’ve only talked about European Honey Bees so far. Yeah, there are other kinds of honey bees out there, but it just so happens European Honey Bees are the best honey makers (which is why people like using them to get honey, and pollinate, and stuff). Sadly, though, they aren’t at all adapted to Japanese predators like the Japanese Giant Hornet.

There are other types of bees, though, including the native Japanese bees. They’ve developed a cool way to fight back so that entire nests don’t get wiped out in the course of a few hours.

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Here’s the wild Asian bees version of the sneaky attack.

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In order to fend off the giant hornets, they send out a pheromone to alert the whole hive. Then, they lure the giant hornet… to it’s DOOM. Once one bee gets caught (such a brave, brave bee sacrifice), they all swarm the hornet covering him up and buzzing so that they can increase the temperature of the giant hornet. Since the little Asian honey bees have a higher max temperature (2 degrees higher), they can raise the temperature of the hornet to 46 degrees celcius (114 degrees), roasting the giant hornet alive. Then, they remove the scent marks so that no other hornets arrive.

Japanese Hornet Home-Life

Japanese Hornets do have a nest and a home and a queen and all that. All their foraging and killing is so that they can bring home the good stuff (thoraxes and flight muscles are what they tend to grab) for everyone to eat. The main attraction at home, however, is the queen… and if you thought regular Japanese hornets were scary… well…

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Basically, the queen is like a billion times more deadly. She also gives birth to a bunch more deadly minions. Then again, it goes both ways. Once she becomes impotent (she’s had a lot of babies, after all) there’s a rebellion (if you can call it that). Do you love the epic music as much as I do?

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Still, these hornets are merciless. Then, like any good uprising, everyone fights against each other (and riots) until new queen(s) arrive.

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Then, they all start mating with each other. Standard kill-your-queen-then-your-babies-then-riot-then-mate-with-queens sort of situation.

Japanese Hornets Versus Other Giant Bugs

This wouldn’t be a post about giant Japanese insects if it didn’t have giant Japanese insects fighting other Japanese giant insects. Japanese Giant Hornets are pretty big, but there’s other big insects out there as well. The bigger the insect, the more you can bring back to your queen and siblings, right? Sometimes it doesn’t go so great, though. Let’s see how they fare versus various other giant bugs.

Japanese Hornet Vs. Praying Mantis

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Oh snap! Praying Mantis attacks the giant wasp, but it turns out the hunter has become the hunted.

Japanese Hornet Vs. 3-Inch Beetle

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This has got to be where the idea for the game Mushi King came from. And seriously? Inter-splicing video of the babies hungering for food to represent the direness and desperateness of the hornet’s attack? Okay, fine. That’s awesome. Sadly, the larvae will have to wait another day to get fed because daddy didn’t get paid today.

Japanese Hornet Vs. Yellow Hornets

Finally, it seems the hornets get really desperate. Yellow Hornets are dangerous, but make for some epic video.

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This video is all kinds of awesome. It’s like an epic war movie, including sound effects, brutal fighting, and epic, epic music. The Japanese Giant Hornets are hurting for food at this point in the video, and they’re risking all attacking a yellow hornets nest. Yellow Hornets (unlike those weak little European Honey Bees) are actually pretty tough. They aren’t all that small (smaller than the Giant Hornets, for sure, but not tiny or anything) and they have their own lethal sting (plus power in numbers). Still, keep watching and you’ll see that the Giant Hornets got smart.


Once again, gotta dig the epic soundtrack of this whole documentary.

Scared Yet?

I hope so. Well, you shouldn’t be that scared. Japanese Giant Hornets aren’t all that mean, really, unless you step on them or punch their nest or something. So, just be careful – I’m sure you’ll hear them coming. Despite all the added flying sound effects, these things are still probably pretty buzzy.

Either way, I wouldn’t be a fan of having a Giant Japanese Hornet nest attached to the outside of my house. I’d probably call up this 78 year old hoopy frood to come get rid of them… because… I’m a super weak young’un, or something.

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So, how was that? Scary? Sure, not the deadliest bug out there, but probably the one with the most blood on its hands… er… legs… er… tibias?

P.S. Scared? Tell us about it on Twitter.
P.P.S. Some kind of tough guy, eh? Join the other brave folk on Facebook.

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  • Anonymous

    No – why did I read this. There are nightmares in store for me tonight, for sure. ;'(

    I’m a real wimp when it comes to insects and bees are the most frightening of them all! 
    I’m so glad I live in Norway where it’s almost snowing atm, and not close to these bees!

  • Ar

    And now I never want to go outside. This was so much scarier than any ghost story…

  • Michi Kunugi-Wang

    Wow, those nest in that attic. That’s scarier then any ghost.

  • Mandarina

    I’ve used “Mandarina” as a nickname for years, now it has a completely new meaning :P I’m too scared to watch any of the video… The article is scary enough! 
    By the way it it Celsius degrees, not celcius ^_^ 

  • Anonymous

    I loved how the Japanaese Hornets demolished the 30,000 European bees, that was amazing (Not good because bees are in decline though), and how the Japanese bees just took over the Japanese Hornet.  Amazing how insects interact with each other

  • Hailey

    I HATE bees and wasps (any stingy thing really). So whyyyyyyy did I watch those videos?!?!? Now when I go to Japan if I hear buzzing I’ll just start sobbing uncontrollably.

  • larisajane

    GUH-ROSS. I could watch all the Japanese horror movies. But if you make another bug post I am going to be UPSET. Although the dramatic intense music was a nice comic relief XD

  • Anonymous

    According to the extremely reliable Wikipedia, they are considered beneficial because they eat pests and therefore protect crops. They can also be eaten and are considered a delicacy.

  • Viet

    The juice of giant hornets is what Japanese Olympic athletes crave:

    You are what you eat…

  • Anonymous

    When I saw the first video of the Hornet vs. Asian Honey Bees, I laughed when the bees swarmed the hornet scout.

  • Anonymous

    Somehow I went from studying to watching videos of hornets to watching a 10 minute video of paint drying. Curse you Youtube related videos!

  • Catherine

    This was pretty scary, since I’m scared of bees and wasps etc.

    :3 I feel sorry for the dude and his hornet infested home, a quick question:

    Why do they call the suzumebachi, monsuzumebachi in the video?

  • モンハンすずめばち

    The “mon” stands for monsterous!

    *checks dictionary*

    Err, I mean… European. It means European hornet.

  • モンハンすずめばち

    I don’t think they needed 30 of them to take out those honey bees. There defense if so high, I don’t think they even take damage. And they’ve got, like, a million hit points. Way too OP, probably banned in tournaments.

  • モンハンすずめばち

    Sure you get super powers, but you have to find and kill one first. It’s a fair trade.

  • Jimmy Lawrence

    Human bot insect. Larvaes eat you alive. Even the real Geneva convention does not apply.

  • Michael Baltazar

    Lol not scary at all. Seemed like a Saturday Timewaster to me haha. So interested that I didnt do any homework. But I’d like to see a Japanese Hornet vs. a tarantula or black widow

  • Michael A. Robson

    *screams like a little girl*

  • koichi

    Basically just the Terran of insects. imba imba

  • Lekos

    Damn nature, you scary!!

  • Jonadab the Unsightly One

    Well, if bees are the ones that scare you you can relax, because these aren’t bees.  Hornets are a wasp.

  • Jonadab the Unsightly One

    The only insects that really scare me are mosquitoes (or, as Calvin calls them, vampire bugs), because they’re the only bugs I know about that actively hunt humans as a food source.  I can almost imagine a scene similar to Hitchcock’s old film The Birds, with mosquitoes instead of birds, taking place in real life — a chilling prospect.

  • Bj

    In the Eastern U.S. we have cicada killer wasps, which can also get to two inches long.  They also aren’t aggressive to people, but can scare the crap out of me!

  • Meroigo

    I had an encounter with one of these when hiking in a mountain near Kyoto. :D I have a bee/wasp phobia, but still am very interested in these creatures, so funny enough I had been reading a lot about them around that time, and seen an in-depth documentary about them etc, so when I was hiking there, I was talking about these Oosuzumebachi to my friends and how I wanted to see one in real life etc etc. I had hiked in many mountains before this, so it was kind of crazy timing that I met one when I was all hyped about them… Yeah, so when I was at the top, suddenly one of these came flying up to me. As I mentioned I’m quite the phobic for these types of insects, so I closed my eyes and held my hands on my ears – that’s my phobic reaction to bees/wasps, hahaha. :D Anyways, I could feel the wind blowing from their low-frequent scary buzzing wings, when it flew near my shirt, and when I felt the air on my face, I was very very scared… But I didn’t want to miss the chance to see it up close, even with my phobia, and as I said, I am very interested in them (weird mix :D) so I opened my eyes a tiny bit for two seconds or so. I could see its face… so…big… me… so scared… closed my eyes again and after some seconds it was gone.

    Haha. One of those memories that will stay with me until I die. :)

  • Fywrtwe
  • Fywrtwe
  • Kaona

    Oh lord why did I stay until the end..?!
    Thanks Koichi, I’m going to have nightmares for weeks now, lol.

  • AmandaT

    I think I saw a couple of these this summer! Either that or the biggest bees that ever existed. Everything in Japan seems smaller — EXCEPT  the insects. They seem much bigger than the ones in North America.

    Who knew an article about nasty hornets would be so interesting? There’s the potential for a Disney/Dreamworks movie here, I can feel it. 

  • Daniel Carter

    I saw a couple of these fighting each other once, that was pretty epic.

  • Autumn

    I’ve always been grossed out by insects and such, but i don’t actually find this scary…

  • Melli

    WWAAAH and I was just about to turn in an application for transfer year into a japanese university…D:

  • littleoldme

    Enjoyed the info, but was wondering if you know that a good number of the YouTube vids don’t play – get a message saying that the YouTube account they came from has been terminated….