Over the last few weeks, giant, deadly hornets have killed more than two dozen people in China, the result of bizarre weather patterns there that have allowed the bugs to proliferate.
This summer, China suffered through massive heat waves, breaking records in places like Shanghai, Changsha, and Hangzhou in July, and affecting 700 million people through August. This has lead to dozens of heatstroke deaths, and, now, increasingly aggressive giant insects.
Attacks by giant hornets, most likely the 5-centimeter (2-inch) Vespa mandarinia, have left hundreds injured and 28 people dead, mostly in the Shaanxi region of northwest China. Some victims reported being chased for hundreds of meters and stung — some up to 200 times — by swarms of the insects traveling 40 km/h (25 mph). A director of the Ankang Disease Control Centre said more 30 stings required “immediate emergency treatment.”
A sting from the hornet’s quarter-inch-long stinger feels like a “hot nail through my leg,” according to an entomologist who got too close for comfort. The venom contains an enzyme that can dissolve human tissue, and too much of it can also bring renal failure or death.
Authorities recommend local residents avoid fields and “be very vigilant while in the woods.” A local fire department has removed over 300 hornet nests since July. This year, fatalities from hornet attacks are twice the normal average. The hornets have attacked people in the region in previous years, but Zhou Yuanhong, a Shaanxi health official, said that this year was “unusually severe, possibly because of weather changes.” Experts say that the hornets breed more successfully in warmer temperatures.
Temperatures in China are 10 to 14 degrees Fahrenheit warmer that they were during the last ice age, which is two to four times as hot as scientists believed. As the globe warms, it turns out that China is even more sensitive to that change than previously thought.
As Quartz notes, the warmer winter temperatures allow more of the insects to survive through the season:
The average winter temperature in Ankang rose 1.10 ℃ in the span of a few years alone, allowing more hornets to survive the winter. And it’s not just China; rising temperatures are behind the spread of another deadly Chinese hornets species, vespa velutina, in South Korea and Europe.
Climate models suggest that vespa velutina is more likely to invade areas of Europe where there are higher densities of beehives, as well as large areas of the Unites States this century.
The hornets are not just a danger to humans — their primary prey is honeybees. Thirty hornets can easily take out a 30,000-strong bee colony in a few hours.