Wasp Facts | Why You Should Fear Wasps and Hornets

(Last Updated On: April 16, 2020)

Wasp Facts

If you’ve ever looked into the eyes of a wasp, you can probably say that you have seen into the abyss of true evil. Either that, or you thought the wasp was a bee and remembered that we’ve done some terrible things to bees. But, what makes wasps so evil? Well, if you were scared of wasps and their brethren before, you’re going to be extra terrified now. Yes, we know that wasps do (when they’re not invasive) serve a valuable purpose in pest control and pollination similar to their bee counterparts. We’re still going to avoid them though. 

Further Reading: Why Are Honeybees Dying?

Wasp Facts (or, Why You Should Fear Wasps and Hornets Even More)

1. They Can Sting However Many Times They Want

For those of you who work with bees, you know that the honeybee can only sting once. That’s because honeybees have barbed stingers that can’t be pulled back out of your skin once it’s in there. So to get away, the bee ends up tearing open its lower abdomen–and then it dies. Bumblebees are a little different from their honeybee counterparts and don’t rip themselves open when they sting, though.

On the other hand, wasps can drop fat stings all over the place. We’ll get into the evolution of this later. Hint: You won’t like it.

While the honeybee stinger is barbed, wasp stingers are smooth and more like needles, which wasps will use to their advantage. They don’t sting and fly off–no. Wasps tend to sting their targets repeatedly. For wasps that swarm, they’ll surround a target and hit them again and again.

They’ll also follow you around long since you’ve fled. 

2. The Asian Giant Hornet Hates You

Yeah we get that you’ve mostly been thinking wasp, but many wasp concerns are transitive to hornets. You know, like the stinging as many times as they want and following you around out of spite. 

Further Reading: What’s the Difference Between Bees, Hornets, and Wasps?

But given that hornets and wasps are very similar, the spirit of fearing them can lump them together. They’re close in classification, so much so that many consider the handful of hornet and yellowjacket species out there to be a subtype/offshoot of the larger wasp category.

Either way, the Asian Giant Hornet is scary, and it’s not that we hate it. We just don’t like it and it’s terrible.

This thing has taken the moniker “yak-killer” for good reason. It’s the largest hornet in the world, and despite its name, the Asian Giant Hornet is not localized to Asia. This bugger has been cropping up as an invasive species in the west, especially the UK.

An Asian Giant Hornet can sit at almost 2 inches long, with a 3 inch wingspan. Which is… A really big bug. They also have stingers about a quarter inch long–so that means 1/8 of their body length is stinger. 

Symptoms of Asian Giant Hornet stings can result in multiple organ failures and necrosis. Which means your organs fail and your fleshy living bits start rotting while you’re alive. No fun. This happens more often when these guys swarm you.

These cases are far less common though, and Asian Giant Hornets more often than not cause fatalities via the expected cardiac arrest and anaphylactic shock. 

3. The Asian Giant Hornet Also Hates Honeybees

Asian Giant Hornets are not only aggressive when provoked, but also just generally aggressive towards other bugs. They’ll even take on the intimidating mantis.

But here’s what makes the Asian Giant Hornet dangerous to our honeybee friends. These things present a huge risk to the western honeybee, and as we mentioned earlier, the Asian Giant Hornet is invasive to the west. Being 5 times larger than the western honeybee, the hornet is essentially immune to their stings. Heck, their preferred method of killing honeybees is just as nasty and hate-filled. They just swiftly bite their heads off.

With that in mind, a single one of these hornets can kill upwards 40 bees per minute. 

If the Asian Giant Hornet can decimate a colony of bees in a matter of hours, how do our bee friends exist in Asia? Turns out they can exist at a slightly higher temperature than the hornets, so they literally pile onto them and vibrate to raise the temperature, thus killing the hornets. 

4. Parasitoid Wasps Are Literally the Alien from “Alien”

Have you seen Alien? You know, the movie where the baby alien grows inside the guy and then eats its way out? Yeah, there exist wasps that do that. In fact, there’s more than one species of wasp that does this, because why not?

Remember when we said we’d get into the evolution of the wasp stinger earlier? Well, here you go.

It turns out that the early stinger structures for female wasps were ovipositors. Also known as: “things that put wasp eggs places.” One day, a wasp figured out that it could inject those eggs into other things, and thus, the venom injecting stinger was born. 

These wasps typically choose specific targets, as that’s what they evolved to specialize against. Beetles, flies, and caterpillars are often common victims. Though some like to hunt spiders. Because wasps are apparently weapons of mass destruction that violate international law.

Parasitoid wasps normally don’t have stingers though, as they instead use that part of their body as an ovipositor. These wasps will often incapacitate their unfortunate victim, before dragging their limp bodies to their nests and dens. They’ll use their ovipositors to cram eggs into their victims. From there, the eggs will hatch and devour the host from the inside out. Sometimes this is an “outside-in” process, but the former is more disturbing.

What’s worse, is that the wasp larvae have evolved to know what is and isn’t essential to their host food supply. Which means yes, they pick and choose what they eat to make sure the host lives as long as possible before finally expiring. 

Wasps share their name with other animals. Look at some here.

About the Author:

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Kyler is a content writer at Sporcle living in Seattle, and is currently studying at the University of Washington School of Law. He's been writing for Sporcle since 2019; sometimes the blog is an excellent platform to answer random personal questions he has about the world. Most of his free time is spent drinking black coffee like water.