Skip to main content

It's humans, not hornets, who are invading

By Amy Stewart, Special to CNN
updated 12:06 AM EDT, Mon October 7, 2013
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
updated 4:08 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
The NFL's new Player Conduct Policy was a missed chance to get serious about domestic violence, says Mel Robbins.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
updated 11:00 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
updated 4:54 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
updated 5:23 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
updated 1:39 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
updated 3:20 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
updated 9:56 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
updated 4:01 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
updated 9:53 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
updated 5:53 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
updated 4:23 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
updated 9:26 AM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
updated 9:39 AM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
updated 12:38 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
updated 1:28 PM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
Rip Rapson says the city's 'Grand Bargain' saved pensions and a world class art collection by pulling varied stakeholders together, setting civic priorities and thinking outside the box
updated 6:10 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
Glenn Schwartz says the airing of the company's embarrassing emails might wake us up to the usefulness of talking in-person instead of electronically
updated 5:33 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
The computer glitch that disrupted air traffic over the U.K. on Friday was a nuisance, but not dangerous, says Les Abend
updated 12:40 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the CBO didn't provide an accurate picture of Obamacare's impact, so why rehire its boss?
updated 7:40 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Russian aggression has made it clear Ukraine must rethink its security plans, says Olexander Motsyk, Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S.
updated 7:46 PM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
The Senate committee report on torture has highlighted partisan divisions on CIA methods, says Will Marshall. Republicans and Democrats are to blame.
updated 1:33 PM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
It would be dishonest to say that 2014 has been a good year for women. But that hasn't stopped some standing out, says Frida Ghitis.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT