Thursday, June 24, 2010

God's Mistakes: the Nazi Hornet

When it comes to religion, I subscribe to a savage mixture of agnostic/deist/Universalist/United Church of Christ ideas. That is, I believe spirituality can play an important role in one's life, and the questions of a grand Creator are quite compelling when it comes to how the Universe exploded out of nothingness and where we go when we die and such, and some of the lessons of Jesus Christ and other figures in the Bible can be quite relevant to the way someone leads their own life. It also means that I don't believe that an Almighty God would be terribly concerned with the sex lives of six billion inhabitants on one tiny planet in the vast cosmos, or that He wants you to burn any Harry Potter book you can get ahold of, or that he shot down the space shuttle Columbia for daring to brush up against his outer veranda.

Whether the creation of life on earth was by a deity or a chance meeting of elements and electricity, the idea of infallibility in such works seems unlikely. I think I remember a Bible chapter in which God was on the verge of destroying humanity out of annoyance, and then there was that whole story with the ark where he nearly did wipe the slate clean. Doesn't sound like the work of someone who made perfect decisions the first time around.

Per Gary Larson, "God as a kid tries to make a chicken in his room"

Humans have been something of a mixed bag. There have been great men and women who advance knowledge and art and are generally major boons to the species, and then there are the sociopaths who spend most of their lives hooked up to the penal system after gunning down innocent victims. Some species out there...well, they may be a part of the planet's delicate ecosystem somehow, but we've already lost the dodo and passenger pigeon and several other creatures, and the rest of us are all still cranking along. So here are some I'm theorizing may have been a mistake, and if you're a mad scientist who can make some sort of ray to get rid of them, be my guest.

This entry looks at the Vespa mandarinia, or Asian giant hornet.


Hornets are a subgroup of wasps, and though I've never been a fan of the lot of them I think I can safely say that the Asian giant hornet is the worst of the bunch. It's painful enough when a European hornet decides to jab a stinger into you, but these beasts apparently have the muscle and stinger length to put some real hurt on. The common description of the feeling, given by a Japanese entomologist, is that it's like a hot nail being driven into your body. As if that isn't enough, the hornet has a higher-than-normal concentration of the pain-stimulating neurotransmitter acetylcholine, other chemical weapons powerful enough to dissolve human flesh, and of course the lack of a barb for limitless stinging capability. This little jerk is concentrated in the western regions of Asia, where it apparently accounts for more human deaths by animal in Japan than any of the other fauna there. Unfortunately, it has also found Europe to its liking as well in recent years.

If it looks like you should be fighting it in a video game, that's generally not a good sign.

So far, it's a terrifying thing of hurt, but that can apply to a lot of creatures. If we leave it alone it will at least use those giant-looking mandibles to cut down on voracious farm pests or the mosquitoes that spread disease, right?


Yes it turns out that the Asian giant hornet has a liking for honeybees and like to swoop in and eradicate hives like they're the helicopter gunships in Avatar or something. It's pretty much a full-on genocide, an unfair fight where they brutally slaughter thousands of bees in minutes. All those nice bees that pollinate flowers and produce honey and the like, gone. The hornets then proceed to rob the hive of all of its valuable resources, including the larvae. They can't digest solid protein, so what happens next, according to Wikipedia, is that they "chew them into a paste and feed them to their larvae. The larvae produce a clear liquid, vespa amino acid mixture, which the adults consume." Which means the hornets gnash infant bees to death with mandibles still bearing the decapitated remains of the larva's parents. And then feed it to their own children only to steal from them as well.

There's that saying, "Karma is a bitch." And there may or may not be the saying, "Burning to death is not the way you want to go." Let's watch the next video.

Assuming there's a whole good vs. evil balance going on in the cosmos, this means that the proportional response for the hornets' crimes is that if they enter the beehive when it's not their day, they're going to get slowly and inexorably burned to death, and/or suffocated. How the bees figured out that this could work, hurting the hornet but not them, is another fascinating aspect of nature.

The Asian giant hornet, ladies and gentlemen. It commits mass murder against a more productive insect, painfully destroys infant versions of that insect, might kill you or me (or at least give one bastard of a sting), looks creepy as hell, and seems to contribute absolutely nothing to the planet. I think this one definitely slipped past the quality control department.

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