The Role of Japanese Giant Hornets in the Ecosystem


Rare and luxury food, honey made by Japanese honey bees

Have you ever eaten honey made in Japan? It’s more expensive than ones imported from China and Argentina (I think those two countries are major honey exporters to Japan). 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. I’ve never eaten that, of course.

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 richer. Another reason why it’s more costly is Japanese honey bees don’t stick to their hive, while European honey bees do. No matter how much beekeepers take care of their hive, they sometimes abandon it for some reason. Funnily enough, this is one of the reasons why they can survive in Japan, though I’ll explain later.

Bees VS giant hornets in Japan

The king of insects in Japan is undoubtedly Japanese giant hornets. They are 40 to 50 mm in size, at the top of the food chain, and even kill some people every year. 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 to the end, and the giant hornets kill them off. On the other hand, Japanese honey bees are the only one who can fight back and kill the giant hornets. The Japanese honey bees throw themselves on a giant hornet, form a bee ball centered at it, and kill it by heat. When too many hornets come, however, they give up their hive and run without hesitation.

A traditiona Japanese classy restaurant. A woman is at the bar counter, and a sushi chef is working over the counter.

Japanese giant hornets are the guards of nature

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


Photo Credit: https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/are-murder-hornets-really-as-scary-as-they-sound.html


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.