I remember the killer bees scare in the US during the late 1970s and early 80s when I was kid. Sensationalist semi-news programs like “That’s Incredible” or “In Search of” told us the killer bees were on their way. Kids at school swore they were coming. I envisioned waves of bees en route from Mexico with one thing in mind – stinging me to death.

But the swarms never came. If they did, none bothered me. And what with colony collapse disorder we could use some highly productive honeybees. In fact killer bees is a misnomer. Rather than aggressive killers, they are effective defenders. Instead of actually trying to kill, they want you remember the pain you’ve felt so you won’t cross them again. Still, I wouldn’t want to get in their way, like a few unfortunate Texans recently have. A couple on horseback managed to get away (albeit covered in stings), but both their horses died from the 30,000+ swarm’s venom. Another 62-year-old man died in a similar incident just a few weeks earlier.

Killer bees are actually man-made hybrids of European and African honeybees. The hype from the 70s was clearly overblown – they couldn’t survive the harsh winters of Washington DC, and despite sporadic attacks, they haven’t terrorized the warmer states either. Due to climate change, however, more territories may at least have to deal with their presence.

But do you know what was scarier than a bee when I was a kid – and still is, truth be told? Hornets and wasps and yellow jackets and all those other pseudo bee-like creatures. And with good reason, apparently. Giant hornets have recently killed 28 people in China, mostly in southern Shaanxi province.

Asian Giant Hornet (Vespa mandarinia). Pic: Thomas H Brown (Flickr CC)

Asian Giant Hornet (Vespa mandarinia). Pic: Thomas H Brown (Flickr CC)

From the Guardian:

The insects‘ highly toxic stings can lead to anaphylactic shock and renal failure. An official from Ankang’s disease control centre urged people to seek medical help if they received more than 10 stings, and warned that emergency treatment was required for those stung more than 30 times.

But victims are being stung up to 200 times and authorities report that in the city of Ankang alone, 715 individuals were injured by the hornets during a three-year span starting in 2003.

Why the sudden spate? According to experts it could be human incursion into their forested habitat, warmer temperatures or chemical sensitivity. The Asian giant hornet can reach 5cm in length and have 6mm stinger. Yeah, I still prefer the honeybees, killer or otherwise.