For the entomological portion of scary nature week, I thought I would highlight some insects that touch upon two of humanity’s most beloved horror tropes; giant bugs and vampires.
There is something inherently scary about a giant bug. Visually insects are horrifying looking to most folks, but they can’t see the details when they are small. Once giant though, their inhuman characteristics shine right through! While there were giant insects earlier in Earth’s history, a drop in oxygen levels among other factors has led to their current diminutive stature. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t still some monstrosities out there! One such example would be the Japanese giant hornet.
The Japanese giant hornet, or ōsuzumebachi in Japan (translates as giant sparrow bee), usually reaches lengths of an inch and a half and has a wingspan of over 2 inches. They are brightly colored, with yellow-orange bodies that have black stripes on them. As with most wasps/hornets they are hunters rather than pollinators. Despite what your brain’s fear region is telling you, their usual dinner is not a human being. The workers hornets go out and hunt for prey items like caterpillars or beetle grubs. They attack and butcher their prey, hauling the chunks back to the nest to feed to their kin.
While we fear the sting of wasps like a yellow jacket here in the United States, they don’t really compare to that of a Japanese giant hornet. The giant hornet has a sting that is about a quarter of inch long that injects venom into victims. As with most other stinging insects this also releases an alarm pheromone that recruits nearby hornets to rise up and attack you as well. The sting has been described as driving a red hot nail into your flesh. While there are more toxic insect venoms around, the sheer amount the giant hornet can pump into you can be quite dangerous. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 30-40 people die in Japan from giant hornet attacks annually.
Another notable problem with these big honkers is their penchant for attacking and killing European honey bees. As shown in the videos below, the giant hornets send out a scout hornet that finds and marks a honeybee hive for attack. Then the hornets will get into a raiding party of about 30 adult hornets. These 30 then go and attack a honey bee colony (average worker force ~30,000). The hornets then proceed to Viking-style slaughter any fuzzy little bee that stands in their way. Once they dispatch the adults they then move on to the whole sale consumption and butchering of the baby bees. The native Japanese honey bees do have their defenses though. If they can catch the initial scout, they will dog pile on top of her and create what I can only call an oven ball of hot and steamy doom. The center of this hot pocket of bees becomes warm enough that it actually roasts the scout alive.
National Geographic Video
As for vampires, most people would associate bloodsucking with mosquitoes, bed bugs, and fleas. However, if you were to visit Asian countries such as China, the Koreas, Malaysia, and Japan you could encounter Calyptra thalictri, a small moth native to these nations. Its range does seem to be expanding as they have been found in Russia, Finland, and most recently Sweden. It has also become more famous recently due to its odd penchant for sucking blood.
Now, this vampire moth isn’t your typical Nosferatu. It isn’t an obligate blood feeder and it normally feeds on fruit. As a Lepidopteran they feed using a proboscis, but this species’ is modified so that the tip is hard and durable and can actually pierce a piece of fruit they wish to feed on. One other behavior observed for this species is they also like to frequent the eyes of large mammals and will drink tears.
As for their vampiric activity, it is observed only with males of the species. Researchers believe it is related to a common butterfly/moth behavior called puddling, where males visit wet soil to obtain sodium and other nutrients to pass on to females as a copulation gift. While this sodium can be obtained from other sources, like the tears mentioned before, there may be more of an advantage associated with blood and therefore more reproductive success for those who partake in the forbidden fluid.
Since their mouthparts weren’t designed for blood feeding, the bite of a moth is actually quite a bit more uncomfortable than say, a mosquito bite, which we don’t normally feel. The moths use our blood pressure to help force the blood up through the proboscis and into their stomach. He can feed for up to 20 minutes and will leave behind a painful, throbbing spot where he fed. No word yet if an aversion to crucifixes is another symptom.
Before everyone starts sharpening tiny little stakes though, it’s important to point out again that this behavior isn’t very common. Also, since their bite is so painful it’s easy to stop them before they start dining on your plasma. This infrequency also means that probably won’t become disease vectors like mosquitoes.