Almost fifty deaths in China and at least 6 in France. This time, the plague comes from the East: they are roughly the size of a human thumb, dark-coloured and when they attack, they are pitiless. They destroy everything they meet, but they’re not locusts: because they sting and sometimes kill. Their scientific name is “Vespa Mandarinaia”, but over the years, they have been called in another way: “Killer Hornets”. Forget the ones we know: I am not talking about the “donkeys’ killers”, as the farmers wisely call the common hornets. In the family of Hymenoptera they are the bad, big and strong ones. Just saying: their bodies can grow longer than 5 centimeters (2 inches): real winged tanks, equipped with a lethal cannon. The surviving witnesses said that their sting is similar “to a red-hot spike” that makes its way through skin and meat. They carry a venom that contains 8 lethal substances: some are used to increase the perception of pain, others dissolve the tissues, others, finally, invite new hornets to sting again and again. It is like a machine-gun fire agaist the victim, whose mistake was to get too close to their hives and nests, and to their food resources. Moreover, differently from the bees, who die quickly after the sting, due to disembowelment, they can continue to attack. Their sting can trigger a deadly anaphylactic reaction even in those who are not allergic. Toxins make their way into the victim’s blood and can cause irreparable damage to liver, kidneys and heart.
They come from Japan, where every year there are dozens of deaths because of their stings, but they have quickly made their way to Southeast Asia and China. They build their nests on trees and bushes. Perfectly camouflaged among the vegetation, these giant hives are a death trap for animals and humans. The Mandarinaia, in fact, protect their house up to 10 meters away from it. The advice we were given by our grandparents when we were children – “if you do not annoy them, they won’t hurt you” – in this case, therefore, does not work. The arrival in Europe has taken place in recent months and it’s a mystery. They are likely to have been imported in some bamboo cane or in packaging of porcelaines. They have already killed six people in France, which is on high alert. In Italy, giant hornets were spotted in Calabria. But their spread, for now, would be under control.
In Italy, people are afraid of another relative smaller killer: it is the Vespa Velutinia Nigrithorax, or the yellow-legged hornet, which has nothing to do with the Xylocopa Violacea, the big and peaceful bee with blue wings, that many mistakenly confuse with the hornets. The dangerousness for man, in this case, is quite identical to that of any insect sting provided with: the risk of death is triggered only for the allergic or in the case of repeated stings. The Velutinia, originally from Asia and also from some imported absently traveler or merchant, is instead a real plaguer for beekeepers. “The threat to bees is very high – the expert Alessandra Ripari said to Retenews24 – since the vespa velutina eats them when they are still alive. After having captured the bees, they break them, and then remove the outside to eat the muscles of the chest”. A chilling scene, a slap to the existence of these wonderful and useful insects that too often are killed by our poisons. In the north, especially in Cuneo, Alessandria and Imperia, the hive hunting has already begun, to try to prevent new massacres of bees that would have dangerous repercussions in the production of honey. But it is not easy to drive this murderess out.
Two stories, that of Mandarinaia and Velutinia, which recall the case of killer bees, broke out in the US, especially in California, at the end of the last century. Emergency triggered by the so-called “Africanized bee”, the result of crossing two different species. The biologist Warwick Estevam Kerr was the creator of this super-wasp in the ’50s. The aim of the scientist was to merge into a single insect higher productivity of the African bee with the greater adaptability of the European. The result was an aggressive mutant with few weaknesses that attacked and killed dozens of people and infested the nests of common bees, killing the queen and replacing it with a usurper able to transform the entire colony. The man who creates killer insects or import them, not caring about rules and bans, is far more dangerous than any venom or sting.
Translation provided by Maria Rosaria Mastropaolo