Robert on Strava says he “just takes the stings and calls it free Vespa”, which is funny, but Asian Giant Hornets (Vespa mandarinia) in Japan are no joke. Read on to find out why.

Sept and Oct is breeding season for the Japanese Hornet, which is when they get aggressive. In Japanese, these are called “oo-suzumebachi (オオスズメバチ)” meaning “great sparrow bee” because of their large size. You know you’re in trouble when they start clacking their mandibles. You’ll hear their buzzing anyway, but when they start in with a clack!-clack! sound, know they’re going on the attack.

If you’re in Japan and watch the Japanese news, you’ll see reports about these regularly. I read that 40-70 people die yearly in Japan from their stings, specifically from anaphylactic shock. These hornets have a re-usable stinger, so they can stick you multiple times. If you approach them, accidentally or on purpose, or are simply in their vicinity, they can attack. One came after me as I was hanging out the laundry, not even near a nest.

Black-clothed, loud, perfumed people be gone!

They say prevention is half the cure, so, this is what I’ve learned:

  • Stay away from their nests, in trees (even low to the ground such as in the roots of a big tree) or the eaves of buildings.
  • Wear solid white, and avoid creating areas of contrast on your body (like black stripes on a white background).
  • Don’t wear any scents at all, even scented soaps - keep it boring on the trails in the autumn in Japan.
  • Do like bee-keepers do - stay calm, slow and quiet. Nobody likes a lot of noise on the trail anyway, but, if they are coming after you, don’t swat at them and yell. Go gently and quietly.

If you do get stung, I read that the best thing to do is to squeeze out the venom (with your fingers, not by sucking), and keep it cold until you can get to a doctor. And multiple stings necessitate such a visit.

Stay safe out there.

⚠️ 🐝 😱


A kind reader mentioned something else to keep in mind:

this time of year when outside, avoid drinking fruit juice (particularly grape or citrus) or alcohol. It attracts them like a magnet. (I speak from experience).

Photo is by KENPEI, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Social Photo by hp koch on Unsplash