I ran across this article on the CNN webpage concerning a large number of human fatalities in China, due to a species of wasp, Vespa mandarinia, commonly called the Asian Giant Hornet. A follow-up article discusses the problem of allergy reactions and red blood cell damage that result from the sting of these insects, complicating sting reactions. This second article quotes Dr. Justin Schmidt, an entomologist at the Southwest Biological Institute in Tucson, Arizona. Dr. Schmidt previously worked at the USDA Bee Lab in Arizona, where he studied Africanized honey bees. A related Asian species of hornet – V. velutina – has been responsible for attacking and destroying beekeepers’ honey bee colonies in Asia and in France in recent years. Native to Asia, V. velutina, was first found in France in 2004. All hornets are wasps.
V. velutina ambush honey bees as they return to the hive, V. mandarinia will mass attack a hive. I wonder if the deaths are a result of a defensive response to people getting too close to their nests? If anyone runs across articles with more explanation relating to the behavior of the hornets let me know.
The common Baldface hornet (Dolichovespula maculata) which is native to the U.S. is an occasional honey bee predator, but not normally serious threat to honey bees. Neither of the before mentioned Asian species are found in the U.S.
Attacks referenced in this article appear to be related to reproductive and mating behavior, or rather increased activity of the hornets while mating. These hornets, like hornets in the United States, produce large numbers of queens late in the year. These virgin queens mate and each impregnated queen winter alone, in hollow logs and other small cavities, then emerge in the spring to start new colonies. All wasps (hornets are wasps) continue colonies in this way (at least in areas that experience winter), with existing colonies dying out in the fall. My wife and I were recently in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in East Tennessee and observed a large hornet’s nest hanging in a tree. I suggested we collect it, but my wife countered that it was still occupied. I suspect she was correct and I left it bee. Bumble bees also continue their survival in this way, with colonies dying out in the fall. I do have a previously collected hornet’s nest hanging in my office. I’m currently traveling, but will take and post a photo of it when I return home.