Knowing me to be a wasp enthusiast, a few friends sent me articles over the past week about the giant Asian hornet (Vespa mandarinia), which killed 28 people in China, and injured hundreds of others, during a wave of recent attacks. I, of course, welcome these notifications, even the news that these mean buggers have mysteriously popped up closer to home … in Illinois. After all, wasps are a strong interest area of mine, and these friends know it.
However, I can’t resist the temptation to announce to the world – “I told you so.” You see, I’ve known about this particular killer species of hornet for some time now, and I also know what these things can do to people. They seem to ‘have it in’ for us talking monkeys, killing a farmer in Japan with a single sting several years back, and more recently causing one Chinese victim to tell the media, “The more you run, the more they want to chase you.”
I’m not joshing you. This is not some ‘Mothra with stinger’ fish story. Vespa mandarinia is a real-life creature. They’re big, they’re strong … I’ve seen footage of a giant Asian hornet defeating and killing a full-grown praying mantis … and they’re mean. During the recent attacks in China, these hornets killed a woman and child and then chased a man (trying to save the mother and child) 200 meters, stinging him for three minutes and nearly killing him. His kidney was filled with venom! Call me morbid, but this makes me want to LAUGH at the movie, “The Birds.” Tweet, tweet.
In my first novel, “Vespa,” published by a small, gutsy Philadelphia-based press in 2007, my main character, Thomas Goodman, had a model of a Japanese giant hornet, a subspecies of the giant Asian hornet, sitting on his desk. The plastic model of the wasp faced a framed picture of Goodman’s wife and kids, foreshadowing the terror to come. My wasps were not Vespa mandarinia, but their size (including the length of their stingers) and aggressive nature were very much influenced by the giant Asian hornet. Taking the horror up a notch, I made my wasps parasitic, which many non-social/non-colonial wasps really are in nature. The wasps in “Vespa” can reach up to two feet long and carry off pets and infants which they bury alive with their eggs. These eggs then hatch into larvae that devour the entombed victim. When my wasps work collectively, then can sting and drag a full-grown man to his burial/human breakfast site, and they may or may not have wiped out an entire Connecticut National Guard company during the course of the novel.
And as someone who found and dispensed of a pregnant black widow spider in his garage a couple of weeks ago, I’ve got to ask you all, what’s with the arachnophobia? I mean, spiders are slow; they can’t fly; most of them aren’t even poisonous to humans. More often than not, wasps kill spiders, stinging them and stuffing them into mud casts where – you guessed it! – the mama wasp lays eggs that hatch into wasp caterpillars that eat the anesthetized spider.
Spiders? You’re afraid of spiders? Just run away. They won’t chase you.
But wasps? You can’t outrun them, you can’t flick them off you, and you can’t dive into a pond or pool and wait for them to go away. They’ll wait for you to surface and then swarm and sting your face!
I think it’s time to batten down the hatches. Wasps are coming and you better stay out of their way.
One final note, if you’re still listening … Real soon, I expect more fiction and film to feature vicious giant wasps and then some fool is gonna come along and say, as they often do to authors who aren’t yet known worldwide, “Hey, Dean, I read your book. Huh-huh … You must have been influenced by this year’s release of ‘Dragon Wasps.’”
Uh, do me a favor. Don’t say that. You’ve got things backwards, and it really, really STINGS.