The Role of Japanese Giant Killer Hornets in the Ecosystem

Japanese giant killer hornets stay on a tree and are sucking nectar.
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Rare and luxury food: Honey made by Japanese honey bees

Have you ever tried honey made in Japan? It’s much more expensive than those imported from China and Argentina (I think these two countries are major honey exporters to Japan). Basically the made-in-Japan honey is expensive, but most of it is made by European honey bees. The real one made by Japanese honey bees in Japan is so valuable. Of course, it’s very high-priced but delicious (from what I’ve heard). Sadly I’ve never tried that, though I’ve been living in Japan for more than 40 years.

Japanese honey bees are slightly smaller than European honey bees, and accordingly, their ability to collect nectar is lower. More time is required for the harvest, which diversifies the sort of honey ingredients (flowers), ages honey like wine, and consequently makes the taste of honey richer. Another reason why it’s more costly is the difficulty of rearing Japanese honey bees. Inherently, they don’t stick to their hive so much, while European honey bees do. No matter how much beekeepers take care of their hive, Japanese honey bees sometimes abandon it for some reason. Funnily enough, this is one of the reasons why they can survive in Japan, the empire of Japanese giant hornets. Let me explain in more detail.

Honey bees VS giant killer hornets in Japan

The king of insects in Japan is undoubtedly Japanese giant hornets. They are the biggest hornet even in the world, 40 to 50 mm in size, at the top of the food chain (though sometimes preyed on by jumbo dragonflies), and even kill some people every year. The number of yearly casualities amounts to 30 people averagely in Japan. This is the reason why they are sometimes called “giant killer hornets.” Especially for river fishermen like me, the giant hornets are seriously annoying. If hearing their heavy buzz sound and further warning sound by clacking their jaws, we have no other choice but to run, leaving behind even good fishing spots.

We have more than 10 species of hornets in Japan. The giant hornets aggressively attack and kill all the other hornets, let alone bees. They are the main reason why European honey bees can’t take root in Japan. The brave European honey bees fight back to the end, and the giant hornets kill them off. On the other hand, Japanese honey bees fight but give up their hive and run without hesitation when too many hornets come. To their credit, I have to say they are not cowards. They are the only one who can kill the giant hornets that attack their hive. The Japanese honey bees throw themselves on a giant hornet, form a bee ball centered at it, and kill it by heat. Of course, many Japanese honey bees are bitten and killed by the hornet in the center of the bee ball.

A sushi restaurant where CondeHouse Runt om chairs are lined up at the counter.
runt om chair by CondeHouse

Japanese giant hornets are the guards of nature

I’ve given up many good fishing spots so far because of the giant hornets. They are my arch-enemy, and I was always dreaming of a world without them, and finally found it even inside Japan. It’s Okinawa, the southernmost prefecture, far opposeite to our hometown, Hokkaido. Is it a paradise? Maybe not really. In Okinawa, European honey bees occupy many holes on trees and drive small animals away. And also, there are a greater number of other smaller hornets due to the absence of the top predators. Those hornets invade human living areas and attack people more than the giant hornets. Further more, some wasps damage trees by depositing their eggs inside, which could be a big threat especially to us, wooden furniture manufacturers. In view of what has happened in Okinawa prefecture, it may be said that the Japanese giant hornets are guards to keep the good order of nature in Japan. Nature is well made.


Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.


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