One of the blessings that the onset of Autumn brings is that we no longer have to deal with the menace that the wasp presents. I hate the creatures with a vengeance and am particularly nervous when one comes into my vicinity. This vespaphobia makes me think twice about dining al fresco because as soon as I lay the food out, down comes a wasp and I spend the next half hour flapping my arms around trying to drive away the pesky insect.
This inconvenience, as tedious as it may be at the time, pales into insignificance in comparison with the trials and tribulations of the poor inhabitants of the northern Chinese province of Shanxi. Over the past few months the citizens of Angkang, Hanzhong and Shangluo have been subjected to attacks by giant hornets. According to reports, the hornets have killed 42 people and left over 1,600 injured. The neurotoxin in their 6 millimetre stingers can lead to anaphylactic shock and renal failure. In some cases the stings are said to dissolve human tissue.
The more the human quarry ran, the more the hornets seem to want to chase them. One victim reported being chased over 200 metres. The culprit, the Asian giant hornet or Vespa mandarinia, is said to be as large as a man’s thumb and is the largest in the world. They have a reputation as a relentless hunter stalking their prey, normally honeybees, in co-ordinated attacks.
The increased prevalence of attacks on humans has been attributed to the unnaturally warm and dry weather the region is experiencing, allowing more hornets than normal to survive the winter. Another reason is human encroachment on the hornets’ natural breeding grounds.
As part of the fight-back, officials have destroyed as many as 4,500 nests – each nest can host as many as 1,000 of the critters. The attacks on the nests are carried out at night as the hornets do not fly around in the dark. This policy seems to be working because attacks have reduced from around 80 a day to just a handful.
Let’s hope these pests stay in China. There is at least one positive from this unfortunate saga. If I am asked to describe the size of my thumb, I now have a new point of reference.