Warning: Beware the Japanese hornet

Experts warn of risk of hornet attacks
Yuri Ishihama / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

Entomologists are warning of possible hornet attacks after 48 people, including middle and high school students, were recently stung by a swarm of hornets in Kyoto.

Believed to be Japanese hornets, the insects struck as the students made their way to school on the morning of Aug. 25.

Hornets are known to become increasingly aggressive at this time of year, and the insect experts are urging people not to provoke the creatures.

According to the Kyoto prefectural police’s Kawabata Police Station, 41 students of local private middle and high schools, and seven others, including teachers and passersby, were attacked by hornets at around 8:20 a.m. near a municipal road in the city’s Sakyo Ward.

Seventeen of the people were taken to a hospital in the city, but none had serious injuries.

The hornets, which reportedly measured about three centimeters long, were identified as Japanese hornets, as a nest was found near the site of the attack. Japanese hornets often are attracted by dark-colored objects, and many of the victims were stung in the head, likely due to their dark hair.

Attacks on humans by bees and hornets occur across the nation every summer and autumn.

On Sept. 28 last year, seven middle school students working as mowing volunteers in Niigata were stung and taken to a hospital.

The same day, 10 people participating in a walking event in Kitakyushu were attacked by hornets.

When stung by bees or hornets, some people can suffer a form of physical shock called anaphylaxis, which, in the worst-case scenario, can result in death.

According to Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry statistics, about 20 people die from bee or hornet stings annually–in 2005 26 people died of stings, and in 2006 and 2007, the figures were 20 and 19 respectively.

Attacks on humans occur mainly in summer and autumn, when hornets, which are very aggressive with a strong poison, are in the midst of their breeding period.

Kagoshima University Faculty of Science Prof. Seiki Yamane, an expert in insect taxonomy, said hornets are especially sensitive about protecting their nests.

According to the professor, when a human approaches their nest, bees and hornets make reconnaissance flights, during which they will fly around the human’s face or body. However, they usually will not attack, as they are merely sounding out a potential threat.

Therefore, Yamane said, if one of the insects lands on your face, the best policy is to stand still and wait until the creature leaves of its own accord, then leave the area.

It is risky to make a fuss or attempt to fend off the insects by hand, because doing so merely makes them excited and aggressive. Furthermore, such actions can sometimes attract more of the insects.

There also are cases in which bees or hornets attack humans without the reconnaissance process, such as when a human accidentally stumbles upon a nest by accident.

If this happens, Yamane recommends that you leave the site silently and speedily to minimize damage. If stung, it is important to go to a hospital as quickly as possible by enlisting help from another person or by calling for an ambulance.

“When hornets are protecting their young, they’ll attack humans as a form of self-defense. As hornets often build nests in the eaves of houses, I recommend that people avoid carelessly exciting the insects,” Yamane said.

(Sep. 2, 2009 Yomiuri Shimbun)

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