Skip to main content

It's humans, not hornets, who are invading

By Amy Stewart, Special to CNN
October 7, 2013 -- Updated 0406 GMT (1206 HKT)
The Asian giant hornet (scientific name Vespa mandarinia) has a venom that destroys red blood cells and can cause multiple organ failure and fatal allergic reactions. More than 40 people have been killed in China by these hornets since July. The Asian giant hornet (scientific name Vespa mandarinia) has a venom that destroys red blood cells and can cause multiple organ failure and fatal allergic reactions. More than 40 people have been killed in China by these hornets since July.
HIDE CAPTION
Asian giant hornet
Irukandji
Assassin bug
Botfly
Candiru fish
Tapeworms
Wandering spider
Day-biting mosquitoes
Bloodworm
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Amy Stewart: Asian hornets have killed, injured many in Asian cities
  • She says they're venturing great distances for food as their habitats are vanishing
  • Human intrusions have long touched off battles in nature, Stewart says
  • Stewart: The hornets are not invasive; in this case, it is the humans who are

Editor's note: Amy Stewart is the author of six books, including "Wicked Bugs: The Louse that Conquered Napoleon's Army & Other Diabolical Insects" (Algonquin Books , 2011)

(CNN) -- It reads like something out of a Japanese monster movie: Enormous angry hornets invade cities, dive-bomb unsuspecting civilians, and inflict horrifically painful and in some cases fatal stings.

But it's not science fiction, it's real. Every year around this time, the Asian giant hornets move into cities in China, Japan, Taiwan, the Korean Peninsula and other areas in Asia to forage for food for their young, and that's where the trouble starts. More than 40 people have died so far this season from the powerful stings and scores have been hospitalized. Emergency response teams are on the hunt for the nests to destroy them before the insects do more damage, and authorities have set up medical units to treat the injured.

Amy Stewart
Amy Stewart

So what do the hornets have against city dwellers? Nothing, really. The hornets just happen to be in an unusually desperate situationn -- largely due to humans. The revulsion and panic that people feel when they read about these incidents or see pictures on TV and on the Internet should be about something more than fear. It should provide a moment to consider the impact of humans on their environment--one that can end up biting them back.

Asian giant hornets don't eat much solid food as adults; instead, they forage for food for their young, often stealing the larvae of honeybees or other insects, but sometimes they forage for scraps of fish in city garbage cans. Then they fly incredible distances to deliver the food, arriving exhausted and starving.

They get their only nutrition from their children. That's right: The babies feed the parents. These grub-like hornet larvae enjoy the meal their parents have brought them, then the parents tap on their heads, which prompts the larvae to offer up a few drops of clear liquid. The amino acids and other nutrients in this liquid fuels the adult hornets, and they fly off in search of more food.

Hornets kill scores of people in China

Sounds aggravating, doesn't it? I'd be angry, too, if I had to go to that much effort to feed my young. At one time, the hornets could forage through forests and fields to find a meal for the kids. But now, as those wild areas are paved over, the hornets find themselves on our turf. Their search for food is as desperate and fast-paced as it ever was, only now they must contend with parking lots and apartment buildings where they once only had to battle other insect foes.

This is not the first time that we humans have moved into wild areas and found ourselves doing battle with wild creatures as a result. One example: In the 19th century, great swaths of Brazilian wilderness were hacked down to make room for plantations. Once people started living in areas that had been wild, they found themselves exposed to new diseases that had never before posed much of a threat to humans.

The assassin bug, a bloodsucking insect native to the region, helps transmit a disease called Chagas disease. It had never before been widespread among humans; its reach was primarily confined to other jungle-dwelling animals. But once people moved into the insect's habitat, the disease began to spread among us and continues to do so.

The deaths inflicted by the Asian giant hornet threat are indeed tragic. But they also serve as a reminder that nature is fierce and powerful. The hornets are not invasive; in this case, it is the humans who are invasive. There can be consequences to moving in on another creature's territory. The Asian giant hornet is feeling the pressure that species all over the world are experiencing. The only difference is that the hornet has found a way to push back. Can you blame it?

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Amy Stewart.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2152 GMT (0552 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2121 GMT (0521 HKT)
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
ADVERTISEMENT