Some insects are rather large. A few are quite scary looking. An extremely small minority could feasibly kill a human being. But one such bug exists that is big, scary, and can kill you. This creature is called Vespa mandarinia, more commonly known as the Asian giant hornet. Vespa mandarinia is the insect of your nightmares.

Let me paint a picture in your mind. Imagine a beehive in northern Japan. Fifty thousand honeybees are happily going about their normal business, reproducing, making honey, and pollinating. Out of nowhere, a group of no more than forty Asian giant hornets, all about 2-3 inches in length, descends upon the hive. Then the carnage begins. In a reign of terror far more fearsome than that of Robespierre, the small group of Asian giant hornets viciously murders each little honey bee one by one--using the method of decapitation. With their long legs, the hornets grab the defenseless honeybees, who try to repel the attackers, but to no avail. With their mandibles (think killer scissors on their faces), the hornets snip off the head of every bee. The rate at which they do this is perhaps the most terrifying fact of all. A single one of these hornets can decapitate 20 bees per minute.1 After a few hours, the colony of 50,000 bees is lost forever. The hornets then take what they came for. They take the bee larvae from the hive to their own nest, where the hornets’ offspring can gorge on them. At last, the hornets disappear almost as quickly as they came, leaving a trail of destruction behind them.

As a reader, you might still be feeling safe. You are not as fragile as a honey bee. Unfortunately, the Asian giant hornet would deal with you anyway. Vespa mandarinia has a secret weapon we have not explored yet--its venomous sting. The sting from this creature is indeed painful beyond belief. Presumably for the advancement of science, Masato Ono, an entomologist from Tamagawa University in Japan, allowed just one Asian giant hornet to sting him in the leg. Unsurprisingly, he reported that the pain was excruciating, stating that it felt “like a hot nail being driven into [his] leg.”2 The Asian giant hornet’s sting is a cocktail of chemicals you do not want in your body, but perhaps its most lethal component is a neurotoxin called mandaratoxin, a substance that can kill you even if you are not allergic. The dose from just one Asian giant hornet probably will not kill you if you are not allergic to mandaratoxin, but a small group of these creatures will have no problem taking down a full grown man. Mandaratoxin shuts down renal function, causes necrosis of the flesh, and leads eventually to death. Your only hope of survival is fast medical care. And maybe a little bit of luck.

Tragically, the Asian giant hornet kills 40 humans in Japan annually, and even more in China, Indochina, and Korea.3 While these flying executioners won’t kill you by decapitation, they could use lethal injection just as easily instead.

These creatures may sound like they were made up in some sort of depraved science fiction story, but they actually exist.

Sleep tight. 


  1. Simon, M. Absurd Creature of the Week: The Huge, Bee-Decapitating Hornet That Can’t Survive Group Hugs. (accessed 10/21/2016), part of Wired.

  2. Handwerk, B. Hornets from Hell. (accessed 10/21/2016), part of National Geographic.

  3. Matsura, M. A Bionomic Sketch of the Giant Hornet, Vespa mandarinia, a Serious Pest for Japanese Apiculture. Journal of the Faculty of Science Hokkaido University 1973, 19, 125-162.