Japanese Honey Bees Cook Giant Hornets Alive

Image: Yasunori Koide via Wikimedia Commons

Meet the Japanese giant hornet: massive, extremely aggressive, and a honey bee’s worst nightmare.

A single giant hornet can kill 40 European honey bees in one minute, and a group of 30 could wipe out an entire hive of 30,000 European honey bees in little more than three hours. Growing up to 2 inches in length, with a wingspan of 2.5 inches, these giants are about 5 times larger than the average bee. When they attack a hive, they quickly decapitate and dismember the inhabitants — flying off with the bees’ thoraxes, as well as honey and bee larvae, which they feed to their young.

Takahashi, CC BY-SA 2.1 JP, via Wikimedia Commons

But when it comes to Japanese honey bees, the hornets have their work cut out for them. While the Japanese honey bees don’t produce as much honey as their European cousins, they have developed an amazing strategy to protect defend themselves against the hornets that terrorize their hives.

Takahashi, CC BY-SA 2.1 JP, via Wikimedia Commons

When a hornet enters their hive, the bees immediately surround the intruder and form a tight ball around it. They then vibrate their wings to generate carbon dioxide and heat, raising the ball’s temperature to 115 °F (46 °C).

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At this concentration of carbon dioxide, the bees can tolerate up to 122 °F (50 °C), but the hornet cannot survive the combination of elevated temperature and high carbon dioxide. Using this method, the honeybees effectively cook the hornet in a convection oven formed from their living bodies.



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