Looking to learn more about Japanese giant hornets? You're in the right place! These giants are fearsome but fascinating.
50 Japanese Giant Hornet Facts
They're twice the size of normal hornets. Their stings can kill you through necrosis and major organ failure.
They feed their children by ripping the heads off other insects and leaving the decapitated, dismembered bodies behind them like a gruesome trail of trophies.
Welcome to the world of Japanese giant hornets!
As you might have guessed, they're some of the deadliest insects on the planet. They're also some of the most interesting. They're deadly killers, but they live in cooperative hives.
Their venom can be fatal, but it's also used to give flavor to drinks and side dishes.
So what are Japanese hornets really like? What's myth and what's fact?
If you get goosebumps easily, this isn't the article for you. If you're ready to test your squeamishness with Japanese hornet facts, however, read on.
1. What does a Japanese hornet look like?
The Japanese hornet is easily identified with the naked eye. Not only is it larger than other hornets, but it has a distinctive black, brown, yellow and orange coloring.
It has five eyes in total: three small “ocelli eyes” at the top of the head and two large “compound eyes” on either side.
Its thorax is brown, and its abdomen has brown and yellow bands that extend down to its stinger. Its wings are usually dark and dramatic with a wide length and muted colors.
As for its weapons, the Japanese hornet has two characteristics that strike fear into the hearts of lesser creatures:
- The first is the stinger, a large and lethal tool that's used to defend the hive.
- The other is a set of long, strong mandibles that emerge from the mouth and can literally rip their prey apart.
2. How big is a Japanese hornet? Japanese hornet size
The Japanese hornet is one of the largest hornet species in the world. Adults have a body length of 3 – 4 centimeters!
This might not seem like a lot, but when you realize that they're double, triple and even quadruple the size of the bees that freak you out at family picnics, they'll definitely send a shiver down your spine.
3. What is the biggest hornet in the world?
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the largest hornet is the Asian giant hornet. They can grow up to 5.5 centimetres with a wingspan of 7.6 centimetres.
If you're curious, the Japanese hornet is a sub-species of the Asian giant hornet.
They're just a little bit smaller than their cousins, and they're native to Japan rather than having the broader range of China, Taiwan, Nepa, and Mongolia.
4. How much does a Japanese hornet weigh?
Workers and drones usually weigh about 0.9 grams. The queens are much larger, but there isn't a lot of data on it. Just know that they're big!
5. What is the Japanese hornet’s wingspan?
The wingspan of the Japanese hornet is 5 – 6 centimeters. It's bigger than their total body length, and it allows them to fly at high speeds for miles at a time.
6. How fast can Japanese hornets fly?
You might think that such large hornets would be slowed down by their size, but Japanese hornets are capable of reaching terrifying speeds.
They can fly as fast as 25 miles per hour!
7. Is the Japanese hornet a bee or a wasp?
The Japanese hornet is classified as a wasp. All hornets are wasps; however, not all wasps are hornets.
It's like how all men are humans, but not all humans are men.
8. What's the difference between a bee, a wasp, and a hornet?
While they might seem the same when you're yelling and running away from them, there are actually quite a few differences between bees, wasps, and hornets.
- For starters, their bodies have different shapes and appearances. Bees are fuzzy; wasps and hornets have fine hairs, but they're not covered in a solid layer of them. Bees also have bristles on their forearms that aren't found in similar species.
- Their stingers are different as well. Bees are the ones that leave their stingers behind after an attack, and they usually die from the loss afterward. Wasps and hornets don't suffer this fate and can sting many times before they're driven off.
- Finally, they have separate purposes in the wild. Bees are pollinators of flowers while wasps and hornets kill smaller insects. They're all vital to the stability of their ecosystems, but they play different roles.
9. Do males and females both have stingers?
Nope! A fun fact about wasps is that only females are born with stingers; it's a part of insect anatomy called the ovipositor, and it's related to egg-laying. Only females have them.
Some males boast defensive spikes on their lower abdomens that can be mistaken for stingers, but they aren't venomous, so they don't really count.
10. Are Japanese hornets aggressive?
If you ever stumble across a nest of Japanese hornets while hiking in Mount Fuji, turn around and find another trail.
They're extremely aggressive, and they won't appreciate a large and lumbering human being in their space.
It isn't that they're malicious. They're just highly territorial, so they might decide that you pose a danger to them even if you're just walking through the woods.
They like to burrow underground, so you might not realize that you've disturbed a nest until you hear the angry buzzing.
Another hazard is that they move in numbers, so if you see one Japanese hornet, there are probably others nearby.
They often send one worker bee to scout an area before the rest join them.
11. Can a Japanese hornet kill you?
Yes. While it's hard to pin down the exact number of deaths caused by the Japanese hornet, officials say that 20 – 40 people are killed by giant hornets every year, including the Japanese species.
One particularly terrible year saw 44 deaths and 1,675 injuries from giant hornets.
Most deaths are from anaphylactic shock. People are allergic, and their bodies can't handle the sting.
That said, even healthy individuals can fall victim to Japanese hornets because of their uniquely deadly venom.
It contains a mandaratoxin that can eat through human tissue and destroy red blood cells, so even victims who survive a swarm might wind up struggling with kidney problems.
It isn't uncommon for victims to need dialysis to remove all of the toxins from their kidneys.
12. How many stings does it take for a Japanese hornet to kill you?
The good news is that a single sting is rarely fatal. It hurts, but it shouldn't cause serious problems for you as long as you're not allergic.
The bad news is that Japanese hornets usually travel in swarms. Even worse, they know how to work together as a unit to debilitate their target.
In 2017, a woman in a wheelchair was killed by Japanese hornets that swarmed her and stung her more than 150 times in 50 minutes.
Firefighters were present at the scene, but they simply couldn't break through the swarm to rescue her.
The moral of the story: Don't underestimate Japanese hornets. They're deadly creatures, so don't walk around with the false confidence that you'll be fine even if you get stung.
13. Are Japanese hornets deadly?
Yes. Humans aren't the only ones affected by Japanese hornets.
They kill other insects to feed their young, and they'll attack almost anything that disturbs their territory.
They're a plague to honeybees in particular, but they prey on all kinds of beetles, worms, mantises and smaller wasp species.
14. Do Japanese hornets kill honeybees? Why?
Japanese hornets prey extensively on honeybees. They kill and dismember them to bring them back to their hive and feed their young.
They'll also snatch honeybee larvae to feed their own larvae; they aren't bothered by a little cannibalism.
Their method of execution is pretty brutal. They'll send ahead a scout to figure out where the honeybees are, and that scout will leave pheromone markers around the hive to attract the rest of her buddies.
When everyone arrives at the scene, a massacre occurs. A single Japanese hornet can kill 40 honeybees per minute; a swarm of 30 Japanese hornets can take down a colony of 30,000 in less than four hours.
Again: Don't underestimate Japanese hornets.
15. Can honeybees protect themselves from Japanese hornets?
European honeybees are sitting ducks to Japanese hornets.
They aren't native to the environment and haven't adapted to defend themselves from local predators, so when the Japanese hornets come scouting, they're slaughtered in large numbers.
Japanese honeybees, on the other hand, know all of the tricks of Japanese hornets, and they've developed a way to fend them off.
When a scout comes snooping around their hive, they'll sit quietly like a Trojan horse while the scout enters the hive through a narrow opening. Then, when they have her trapped, they'll surround her in large numbers and form a “bee ball.”
Temperatures can reach up to 117°F, so the honeybees aren't messing around. The temperature is so precise!
According to National Geographic, Japanese honeybees can withstand temperatures of 118°F, and the Japanese giant hornet can withstand temperatures of 115°F. Not much room for error, only a 2°F difference!
You'd never know from innocent pictures of honeybees that they're actually vicious killers that can burn their enemies alive. However, this just goes to show that there are entire wars happening in nature that we can't see!
16. Is a Japanese hornet sting dangerous?
Yes. The sting itself is painful but survivable; however, the venom that's ejected from the sting can cause all kinds of nasty side effects. Its median lethal dose is rated 4.0 mg/kg.
17. What does a Japanese hornet sting feel like?
It hurts! A lot. Technically, the sting of the Japanese hornet isn't registered on the Schmidt sting pain index. However, evidence suggests that it can be downright agonizing.
YouTuber Coyote Peterson is revisiting the sting pain index on his channel, Brave Wilderness. He says that the Japanese giant hornet should be at the top of the list.
One Japanese entomologist famously said that the pain was like “driving a nail into [his] leg.”
Others have described it as a searing, burning feeling that doesn't quit. Since the venom can take a long time to break down in the body, the pain can linger far beyond the pinch of the original sting.
This is a great video, I highly recommend that you watch it. This guy does all the stuff we don't want to, and we love him for it!
The inflammation can also cause pain and stiffness because of the fluid building up beneath the skin. Like any welt, it can hurt to touch.
18. What does a Japanese hornet sting look like?
The sting of a Japanese hornet can leave behind a startling wound.
In the initial stages, your skin will swell until the puncture site resembles a large goose egg. If you've been stung in the arm or leg, your limb might also become too stiff to freely move.
Here's the aftermath of the video in the previous point:
Over time, especially if you haven't sought medical treatment, the wound can get bigger.
Since the venom of the sting breaks down human tissue, the puncture can widen until it forms a visible black hole. If you've been stung multiple times, you could have black holes peppering your skin like a disease.
In the most serious cases, the wound can become necrotic. This is when the blackness spreads because the tissue completely dies. Necrosis can lead to organ failure and death.
19. How can I avoid getting stung by a Japanese hornet?
Let's say that you're relaxing in the hot springs when you hear that tell-tale buzzing. The first step is: don't panic. Japanese hornets will respond aggressively to signs of danger, including running, yelling and flapping your arms around.
If a Japanese hornet starts to invade your space, the best thing to do is to calmly walk away. Don't move too quickly, and try not to swat at it. If it lands on your clothes, leave it alone and wait for it to move away on its own.
Do not run away under any circumstances. Swarms of Japanese hornets have been known to chase their victims for miles, and they can reach flying speeds of 25 miles per hour. You'll tire before they do.
According to one victim, “The more you run, the more they want to chase you.”
20. What if I’m stung by a Japanese hornet? How to treat a Japanese hornet sting
It can be scary and painful to receive a sting from a Japanese hornet. However, it's important to remember that a single sting isn't enough to kill you.
Conventional wisdom says that you don't even need to seek medical attention unless you've been stung 10 times or more.
If you do get stung, here are the steps to take to treat it:
- Check to see if the stinger is lodged in your skin. This is a rare occurrence since Japanese hornets don't usually lose their stingers after an attack, but it can happen if you were stung at an awkward angle or if the hornet had been injured before acting defensively.
- Clean the area with soap and water. This won't do anything about the venom, but it might prevent you from developing irritations or infections from a dirty puncture wound.
- Apply an ice pack. You can also use a cold compress, but that might not be strong enough to soothe the extreme swelling of a Japanese hornet bite. They're known for causing major lumps and bumps. You'll probably need a full ice pack to keep the size down.
- Take an aspirin. You might be tempted to reach for a painkiller right away, but you should take care of the necessities of sanitation and swelling before you indulge in an aspirin.
- Watch yourself for side effects. If the sting doesn't get better over time, you might be having an adverse reaction to the venom. Some people are more sensitive to it than others. Be on the lookout for swelling that refuses to go down or skin that starts to turn black.
21. Is there anything that I shouldn't do if I'm stung by a Japanese hornet?
Don't try to suck the venom out! It takes only seconds for it to spread beyond your reach, so you'll be performing a painful, pointless act that might actually hurt you in the long run.
The human mouth has a lot of germs. Getting saliva in an open wound is just asking for trouble.
Aside from that, you might also want to avoid using antihistamines and ointments until you're positive that you aren't having an adverse reaction to the sting.
Allergy creams can mask symptoms that you should be paying attention to during your recovery. This is more of a precaution than anything, but it's better to be safe than sorry, especially if you've been stung multiple times.
22. Can you eat Japanese hornets? What do they taste like?
Despite the dangers that they present, Japanese hornets are routinely caught and cooked in the rural mountain regions of Japan.
The locals prepare them in several ways:
- Larvae Rice Dish: One dish is called hachinoko or “bee children.” It consists of cooked larvae and is often served with rice. People describe it as having a rich, earthy taste with the consistency of pulp.
- Drowned Bee Beer: Another way to enjoy hornets is to drown them in a special type of beer known as shochu. It's distilled with rice, barley or sweet potato, and the hornets are drowned in large barrels of it so that they'll release their venom into the alcohol as they die. The barrels are usually sealed off for a number of years until the beer is ready to be consumed.
- Snacks: Some people bake, boil or fry whole hornets and eat them as snacks. They're crunchy treats that are said to taste like prawns.
23. How can people eat Japanese hornets when they are venomous?
Cooking venom denatures (breaks down) it, making it safe to consume.
Really though, this is a question of poison vs venom. Venom needs to be injected into the bloodstream to be effective, whereas poison is ingested, inhaled, or absorbed.
Anyway… unless you have a bad mouth or stomach ulcer (sore or cut in the stomach lining), then you shouldn't have any problem consuming venomous hornets.
As mentioned, cooking also changes the venom, so you should be relatively safe. I don't endorse eating potentially dangerous things, but I do find it fascinating.
For the record, Japanese hornets aren't the only venomous bugs that make it into people's stomachs. For example, wasps are served on skewers in China, and ants are roasted as a festival treat during Colombian holidays.
24. Do Japanese hornets die after they sting?
No. This is one of the reasons why they're so dangerous; they're tough, tenacious creatures that can keep stinging their prey over and over until the prey stops moving.
Unlike bees, their stingers won't fall out.
25. How long is the Japanese hornet’s stinger?
The stinger of the Japanese hornet is between 5 – 6 millimetres long. This is about a quarter of an inch.
Measure it with a ruler if you want to throw up.
26. Do Japanese hornets bite?
Japanese hornets don't actually bite, but they have powerful mandibles extending from their jaws that they use to rip apart other insects.
You don't have to worry about them biting you, however. Their mandibles are only used as a weapon against their prey.
27. Do Japanese hornets spit acid?
Technically, yes. Japanese hornets generate a vespa amino acid mixture (VAAM) that they spit up as larvae.
But this mixture won't harm humans and isn't what most people mean if they ask if a Japanese hornet can spit acid at you, so the answer is mostly “no.”
There's no reason to fear VAAM. Some athletes are actually consuming VAAM in energy drinks to give them a competitive edge on the field; they call it hornet juice, and since it's completely natural, it isn't banned by athletic organizations.
Yay, who needs steroids?! Get me some hornet barf! 😒
28. Are Japanese hornets poisonous? Or venomous?
We discussed this a bit earlier, but here's a bit more.
There's an important distinction between “poisonous” and “venomous.” Thankfully, it's easy to remember:
- Venomous creatures are ones that have to bite or sting you to deliver their toxins. They have barbs, fangs, mandibles or stingers for this purpose.
- Poisonous creatures are ones that have toxins embedded in their skins or scales. They might not have other offensive or defensive characteristics at all; they can poison you if you touch or eat them.
To put it another way, venomous creatures have to actively attack you to make you sick. Poisonous creatures have a more passive toxicity where you'll only get sick if you touch or eat them. Again, more on that here.
Japanese hornets are venomous. They have stingers, and they deploy their venom through them.
29. Can Japanese hornet venom melt skin?
No. People love to exaggerate the effects of Japanese hornet venom by describing it as “flesh-eating” or “skin-melting,” but that's sensational rather than factual.
That said, the venom of the Japanese hornet does contain a toxin called cytolytic peptide, and it can cause your skin to “self-digest” or attack its own cells. This is how small stings can turn into bigger, blacker wounds. It's an act of necrosis.
Fortunately, necrosis only happens in the most serious of cases, so you don't have to worry about the Japanese hornet melting the flesh off your bones.
30. What’s the difference between the Asian giant hornet and the Japanese giant hornet?
The Japanese giant hornet is a sub-species of the Asian giant hornet.
They're a bit smaller, and they're native to Japan instead of being spread around the entire continent, but the differences are otherwise minimal. They look, behave, attack and reproduce the same way.
31. How long do Japanese hornets live?
Like many bee and wasp species, Japanese hornets have short, eventful lives. They're born in the spring and die in the fall or winter depending on their societal role.
- Males die the fastest. They've fulfilled their purpose as soon as they mate in the early fall, so they only survive for a few months in total.
- Female workers last a bit longer since they stick around to care for the queen and hive, but they don't last longer than a couple of seasons, either. They die in late fall or early winter.
- Queens survive the longest. They hibernate in the winter after being fertilized, and they reawaken in the spring to lay the eggs, raise the babies and oversee a new generation of queens and workers. They'll die before their second winter after living about a year in total.
32. Do Japanese hornets take care of their young?
Yes. Everyone works together to feed, shelter, protect and raise their young. They just have different roles in the reproductive cycle.
For example, the queen lays the eggs while the workers go out to kill other insects and bring them back as food for the larvae.
33. How long does it take for Japanese hornets to grow up?
Like everything in their life cycle, it happens fast. Japanese hornets mature from squirming larvae to able-bodied adults in about 40 days.
34. How many eggs are laid by queen Japanese hornets?
A lot! It's impossible to give an exact number since it's in the thousands, but it's estimated that Japanese hornet queens can lay around 100 eggs per day, and this happens over and over again as she builds a colony.
As the little larvae grow, they build a cap over their home in the hive. This hardens and protects them as they grow into full-sized hornets.
35. What eats a Japanese hornet? Predators and Threats
Japanese hornets are apex predators in the insect world. They're even dominant over other wasp species.
In one study by entomologists, they won 56 out of 57 fights that were arranged between species, so they had a success rate of 98.3%. No one messes with these bugs.
36. Is the Japanese hornet endangered?
No. While they haven't been officially evaluated by any conservation groups, Japanese hornets are considered a common species that isn't at risk for extinction.
However, this might change in the next few decades as deforestation becomes a bigger and bigger problem in Japan. More research will be needed.
37. What do Japanese hornets eat?
Japanese hornets can't consume solid food. They live off the vespa amino acid mixture (VAAM) that's secreted by their larvae.
They do catch, kill and chew insects, but it's only for the purpose of creating a gum-like paste that they can feed to the larvae.
In return, the larvae will produce VAAM to feed the adult hornets right back. It's a kind of natural feedback loop where every member of the nest is dependent on the other.
Before their babies are born, they live off tree sap and occasionally honey from honeybee combs.
38. How do Japanese hornets kill?
It's quite gruesome. When they catch an unsuspecting bee or beetle, Japanese hornets use the mandibles in their jaws to crush their victims and rip them apart.
They do this because they only want certain parts of the body to take back to their young; they aren't interested in heads, arms, legs or wings. They'll leave those parts behind in favor of the nutrient-rich thoraxes and abdomens.
Another way to describe it: Japanese hornets rip the heads off their victims and leave those heads behind after they're done dismantling the rest of their bodies. Yikes!
39. What is the Japanese hornets Latin name?
The scientific name of the Japanese hornet is vespa mandarinia japonica. It literally translates to “Asian wasp” and “Japan.”
40. What other names does the Japanese hornet have?
The Japanese hornet is known by a few names. Most of them are self-explanatory like “giant hornet” and “Japanese giant hornet,” but there are a few creative ones as well.
For example, in their native homeland, the Japanese call them osuzumebachi or “great sparrow bee.” The Chinese know them as the “tiger head bee.” Koreans call them the “general officer bee” after their military.
41. Are Japanese hornets loud?
While not overly loud, Japanese hornets make that distinctive buzzing noise that will have you wildly looking around in search of the bee.
They can also click their mandibles together as a warning against trespassers in their territory, but if you're close enough to hear that, you have much more pressing problems than their volume level.
42. Do Japanese hornets carry disease?
Japanese hornets have a few parasites, including stylopidae, a microscopic species that spend their entire lives inside the abdomens of wasps.
None of these parasites are toxic to humans, however. Japanese hornets won't give you any diseases.
43. Are Japanese hornets in the United States?
Good news! Currently, there are no documented cases of Japanese hornets living in the United States.
The rumors spread every now and then because there are a couple of similar-looking wasp species in the east and the south, but these aren't actually vespa mandarinia japonica.
Update, April 2020: there are, however, documented cases of the vespa mandarina, or Asian giant hornet, in the United States. The Japanese hornet is a subspecies of the Asian giant hornet. This has caused some confusion with my readers :). Though they are very similar, Asian giant hornets and Japanese giant hornets are not considered to be the same thing (as covered in point #30).
44. Where does the Japanese hornet live?
As their name suggests, Japanese hornets are native to Japan.
They've been spotted a few places in Europe, including Great Britain's Channel Islands, but their numbers are quite low when they're away from home. They don't migrate and are only transported overseas by humans.
45. What is the habitat of the Japanese hornet?
Japanese hornets live in the mountains and lowlands of Japan. They like woods, hills, forests, and thickets.
46. Do Japanese hornets live in the ground?
Yes. Unlike other bees and hornets that live in trees, Japanese hornets prefer subterranean environments. You might find them atop the occasional gazebo, but in an optimal environment, they'll always go underground.
They build their nests and combs at depths of 6 – 60 cm (2-23 in), and they often live among things like rotted pine roots. They've even been known to take over the burrows of rodents, snakes and other small, ground-dwelling species.
47. What's the social structure of Japanese hornets?
Japanese hornets have a busy and complex social structure. They're considered eusocial creatures because they divide themselves into castes that include multiple generations living together with cooperative child-rearing and intelligent divisions of labor. Here's how it breaks down:
- Queens: The most important members are the queens. They're the only ones who can lay eggs, and hive life revolves around them. Japanese hornets even have “royal courts” where workers will lick and bite the queen to transmit pheromones.
- Workers and Scouts: The next caste consists of workers and scouts. They're unfertilized females who do the heavy lifting for the hive.
- Drones: Males are called drones. Their only real purpose is to mate, and they die as soon as they've accomplished it.
48. Do Japanese hornets hibernate?
The queens do. Workers and drones will die in the fall, but fertilized queens will go into hibernation over the winter and emerge in the spring to start laying their eggs.
Once the new generation is born, raised and fertilized, the queens will die before their second winter.
49. Where do Japanese hornets go in the winter?
Japanese hornets hibernate in their underground nests or burrows. Once the queen awakens in the spring, she'll start building combs and laying eggs in them.
50. Where can I see the Japanese hornet?
You'll need to travel to Japan if you want to observe the Japanese hornet or try some Japanese hornet beer. They aren't really bred anywhere else; you won't even find them in zoos.
Of course, you might want to ask yourself why you want an intimate look at some of the deadliest insects on the planet. Aren't pictures enough?!
Did you make it all of the way to the end of these Japanese hornet facts? Congratulations! You have a tougher stomach than most. Lots of people shudder and click the back button as soon as they see the compound eyes. It looks like you're made of stronger stuff!
What was your favorite fact? Did we miss one? Let us know in the comments!
Drew Haines is an animal enthusiast and travel writer. She loves to share her passion through her writing. She graduated high school at sixteen and started her own business, Everywhere Wild Media. And she runs Everywhere Wild and JustBirding. She also guest blogs on Storyteller.Travel
She lived in Ecuador for 6 years and explored the Galapagos Islands. Currently based in N.S., Canada.