Pest Wars: The Battle between Japanese Giant Hornets and Japanese Honey Bees

Previously we talked about the clash between termites and ants, and you’ve learned firsthand how ants almost effortlessly defeat their larger and clumsier foes in battle. They’re constantly at each other’s throats, much like how the hornets and bees in Japan are always prepared to mobilize against each other. And while ants and termites fight on land, these guys took to the skies (or at least as far above ground as they can manage).

You’d better call pest control immediately since this clash can get also pretty nasty for civilians like you and me.

japanese honey bees
Japanese Honey Bee


The Japanese giant hornets (Vespa mandarinia japonica) lust for honey; sadly, they cannot make their own. So they need to steal from those who can, namely the Japanese honey bees (Apis cerana japonica) which work for humans in numerous bee farms all over Japan. However, the bees can only produce so much honey for their employers and themselves, so they’re not very generous with anyone else. Thus, the hornets tend to take it by force.


The hornets never rush at their enemies recklessly; they’re too cunning for that. Instead they send a single hornet scout to look for a bee hive. Once one is located, the hornet leaves a trail of pheromone in and around the bee’s nest; this acts as a marker that will attract other hornets to the target.


But the bees anticipate this infiltration and act accordingly. They’d let the hornet scout inside the hive unmolested, and at the proper moment they’d converge on it in a ball of vibrating bee bodies. This trap serves to kill the scout since a hornet can only take up to 46 °C (115 °F) while the bees can tolerate up to 50 °C (122 °F). The ball can get hot enough to kill the hornet, although other bees might die in the process. They deem this a necessary sacrifice for if a single hornet escapes, they’re doomed.

honey bees vs giant hornets


If a hornet scout manages to return to its base, the hive prepares its army. A single hornet can kill up to 40 bees in a minute, and a well-organized platoon of 30 hornets can decimate more than 30,000 of their foes in just 3 hours! Smaller and less evolved, the bees can put up a courageous fight but all their efforts are in vain.


At the end of the day, the bee hive is all but destroyed. Bee heads and limbs lay on the colony floor one on top of the other while the hornets feast on the honey they left behind. Sometimes they even lick it off the bee’s corpses. And as if that’s not enough, they also prey on the bee’s larvae and some of these are taken back to the enemy’s colony to be eaten by their young. Thus they went home victorious and with their lust satisfied—for now at least!

Japanese Giant Hornet

Battles between bees and hornets can be really intense, and we can be among the civilian casualties. In Japan the hornets are known for being the second most lethal animal after humans, deadlier even than bears and venomous snakes. So better watch out for them in case they decide to have a few rounds against each other. Or better yet, call professional pest exterminators immediately at first sign of trouble!