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The world’s largest hornet is the Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia). An individual specimen can measure up to 5 cm (2 inches) long and has a wingspan of 7.6 cm (3 inches). Giant hornets have blunt wide heads which look different from those of other wasps, hornets, and bees and they are colored yellow orange and brown.
The Asian giant hornet ranges from Siberia down across the Chinese coast into Indochina and lives as far west as India, however the hornet is most common in the rural parts of Japan where it is known as the giant sparrow bee. The sting of the Asian giant hornet is as oversized as the great insect is. Within the hornet’s venom is an enzyme, mastoparan, which is capable of dissolving human tissue. Masato Ono, an entomologist unlucky enough to be stung by the creature described the sensation a “a hot nail through my leg.” Although the sting of a normal honey bee can kill a person who is allergic to bees, the sting of an Asian giant hornet can kill a person who has no allergies–and about 70 unfortunate souls are killed by the hornets every year.
Armed with their size and their fearsome sting, Asian giant hornets are hunters of other large predatory insects like mantises and smaller (i.e. all other) hornets. The giant hornets do not digest their prey but masticate it into a sticky paste to feed to their own offspring. A particular favorite prey is honey bee larvae, and since European honey bees have no defense against the giant wasps, all efforts by Japanese beekeepers to introduce European bees have met with failure. Japanese honey bees however have evolved a mechanism (strategy?) to cope with hornet incursion. When a hive of Japanese honey bees detects the pheromones emitted by hunting hornets, a crowd of several hundred bees will form a gauntlet (carefully leaving a space for the hornet to enter). Once the hornet walks into the trap the bees rush on top of it and grasp it firmly. They then begin to vibrate their flight muscles which raises the temperature and produces carbon dioxide. Since giant hornets cannot survive the CO2 levels or high temperatures that honey bees can, the hornets put up a titanic struggle to overcome the mass of bees, killing many in the process. However honey bees have a fanaticism which would do credit to the most ardent practitioner of Bushido, and they usually kill the invaders.
The aggressive drive and single minded focus which bees and wasps bring to creating and defending their hives have long drawn the attention of warriors, rulers, and merchants. There is a long history of bees as heraldic logos, military insignia, and as corporate logos and or mascots. Additionally, bees and hornets are surprisingly popular in the world of sports. Here is a miniature gallery of bees used as insignias or as mascots throughout the ages.
The Barberini were a bloodthirsty Italian aristocratic house from Florence.
The Barberini reached the apex of their power in the 17th century when Maffeo Barberini ascended to the throne of Saint Peter as Urban VIII (who was noted for melting down classic bronzes and having the birds in the Vatican garden poisoned).
Napoleon was also a fan of industrious bees. Closely looking at his coat of arms reveals that the red cloak framing the eagle shield is embroidered with bees. Not only do the bees represent hard work, ferocity, and fecundity, they are meant to allude to the golden bees/cicadas found in the tomb of the Merovingian king Childeric I, who founded the French throne in 457.
Bees and hornets are also favored by more contemporary soldiers.
My personal favorite of all bee-themed logos is the Seabees logo which was designed in the war year of 1942 and has remained unchanged since then. The Seabees are the Naval Construction forces, who were (and are) expected to build critical military infrastructure like airstrips and docks even under fire. Their motto is “Construimus, Batuimus“ (“We build, We fight!”) and the pugnacious bee on their logo reflects this with his machine gun, wrench, and hammer.
In the US Air Force one of the prominent all-weather, multi-role fighter jets is the F/A-18 Hornet and a number of badges represent the fighting elan of the men and women who fly and service them (like this badge showing a hornet beating up a tomcat).
Beyond the manor and the battlefield, there are numerous corporate bees and hornets.
The New Orleans hornets are a professional basketball team. The fierce hornet has been elided with the city’s trademark fleur de lis.
The honey nut cheerio bee has been hard-selling honey flavored oat cereal for General Mills for long years. Here the bee is pictured wobbling in space time as he annoys a professional wrestler.
The Green hornet is a comic book hero who dresses up like a stinging insect and makes his Asian manservant fight crime.
The Bumble Bee man is a long-suffering Mexican-American TV star in the cartoon world of the Simpsons. The Bee man finally brings us to real world bee costumes which I think largely speak for themselves.