I don’t want to scare you or anything, but I know how you’re going to die. You’re going to be stung to death by giant hornets. We all are, and it’s going to be excruciating. In a plot twist straight from a SyFy Channel mockbuster, we all laughed at Mother Nature for too long, and now she’s coming after us in the form of huge, horrifying, toxic insects. I know, because I read a lot of internet news.
A Chinese woman named Mu Conghui told Xinhua News Agency:
"The hornets were horrifying. 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."
“Sting holes,” not bumps, because this particular hornet, the "yak killer" has a quarter-inch-long stinger that injects your body with mastoparan, a peptide toxin that, according to a scientific study I pulled up online:
"…increases the GTPase activity and the rate of nucleotide binding of several purified GTP-binding regulatory proteins (G proteins) whose function is to couple cell-surface receptors to intracellular mediators."
I have no idea what that means either, but apparently the toxin dissolves your skin at the sting site, leading to searing pain, and, in the likely event that you’re stung 30 or so times, anaphylactic shock, and kidney failure.
This is that thumb-size Japanese hornet mentioned on a thousand hyperbolic blogs over the years, and for good reason. It really does attack people’s eyes. It really does spray a pheromone into the air that calls in a swarm of its friends. It’s true that if it wants nectar, and there’s a beehive in the way, this kind of hornet will swarm the bees, ripping them in half, and take control of the food supply. In larger numbers, these hornets do threaten ecosystems, and it would be really fucking scary if they started invading other regions where they don’t have natural enemies.
Last month, these hornets the size of mice were making news by being out in greater numbers than usual. At the end of September, the Chinese newspapers were reporting 28 deaths and 419 injuries. A report on ShanghaiDaily.com one week later has the death toll now at 41, with 1,630 injured.
Shaanxi province always experiences hornet attacks in early fall, but this year has already been exceptional. China Daily explains that local environmental cleanup efforts seem to have fed the hornets, and combined with the rapidly warming climate to create a perfect hornet storm. No word on if the hornets themselves are physically stronger than usual, nor whether they’re able to open doors or break into your car. Also, so far no one but me has speculated that the hornets are teaming up with al Qaeda, so don’t spread that rumor.
News stories are making them sound unusually aggressive this year, or, as the Daily Mail’s sensational news story put it, “The more you run, the more they chase you.” That can’t be true, can it? They’re capable of flying 50 miles in a day.
To make matters worse, other internet news stories make it sound as if they’re coming for us all. On October 2, Natureworldnews reported that giant invasive hornets are now driving bees away from the food supply in Europe. Fortunately, there are no reports of yak killers in Europe yet, only a smaller species. The Natureworldnews article very cleverly segued between the two hornet stories, thousands of miles apart, giving the impression that the giant Asian hornets are headed for the Eiffel Tower!
It has all the newspaper-selling power (now “click-baiting power”) of the killer-bees stories from the 70s and 80s. Every few years they’d insist with renewed certainty that the killer bees were coming, and they were relentless. They’ll snatch your baby and carry her to Ohio. My second-grade teacher explained that a swarm of normal bees will leave you alone if you jump in a lake, but killer bees will wait around until you come up for air, and then they’ll swarm your face, stinging you until you’re a desiccated corpse.
Also like the man-made killer bees, the global-warming angle gives the story that “And it’s all our fault!” quality.
Regardless of whether these hornets really stand a chance of invading Europe, or whether they’re planning to ambush me here in LA when I’m going out for a cup of coffee, it’s horrifying and sad to think of people farming millet one minute suddenly having their bodies covered with these monsters.
More on the killers of Mother Nature: