Unless you’re an avid fan of the Discovery Channel, this week’s news that giant Asian hornets have killed 41 people in China and seriously injured thousands, leaving hundreds very ill in hospital, will have come as quite a shock.
In the UK, hornets are rare but from a young age we’re told to watch out for these big wasps which have the ability to inflict a bad sting. Now imagine them ten times the size and you’ll think we’re talking science fiction but instead, warm weather and the use of rural areas for buildings has brought these killers closer to humans and humans closer to danger. Video footage shows people with holes you’d imagine were made by bullets and the news will definitely put anyone off visiting the Shaanxi province of China. The same applies to other parts of Asia too with deaths reported on the outskirts of Tokyo too!
It's a common misconception that spiders are probably the best known ‘killer bugs’ but did you know that other, seemingly harmless, creatures are far more deadly.
Try the beautiful African assassin bug whose name is a fair assessment of its danger. Whilst it doesn’t inject a huge amount of poison, that which it does inject, or even spit at its prey, is said to have a potency ten times that of a cobra. The venom is a necrotising alkali – this means it dissolves the tissue of its prey before it sucks the meal back out through its proboscis. Another foul fact from this creature is that to disguise itself, it ‘wears’ the decaying remains of its previous meal so it looks harmless.
Fire ants sound like you don’t want to mess with them and you’d be right. Forget them being named for surviving forest fire or being thought to be born from fire – the truth is much worse. The bite from these ants feels like you’ve got a match held to that part of your body. One bite is just extremely painful, ten or more and you could be in danger of death and with the creatures attacking in swarms, that’s not unusual.
More ants now and we’re talking army ants this time. These are the ants of horror films and move, kill and eat with military precision. They can bring down unsuspecting prey very quickly and are said to have attacked livestock, killing and stripping it to the bones before moving on. You may remember an episode of the Swiss Family Robinson series from the seventies where the family cowered in anticipation of the arrival of a swarm and they were right to be scared. If this isn’t scary enough, don’t get us started on bullet ants!
Finally, a killer of our own making – called Africanised honey bees, these were bred by scientists who wanted a strong but productive bee. Thus was born the Africanised honey bee which bred out of control and turned out to be not just sturdy but also very aggressive. Swarms have been known to deliberately chase humans and other creatures for up to a kilometre before attacking them.
Whilst you’re unlikely to encounter them unless you travel to the tropics or hotter parts of Africa, global warming is taking them closer to major population centres so we may be hearing a lot more from them in the years to come!
Of course, don't let a fear of creepy crawlies and bugs put you off traveling to any of these locations, just be aware of the risks and take sensible precautions and the chances of an encounter are slim!