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Asian Giant Hornet: Characteristics, Diet, Facts & More [Fact Sheet]

The Asian Giant Hornet, also known as the “murder hornet,” is a remarkable creature that is both fascinating and, to some, frightening. Notorious for their lethal venom and aggressive group attacks, these insects are nature’s embodiment of power in a small package.

This insect, with a body length of around 1.8 inches and a wingspan of around 3 inches, is the world’s largest hornet. In this article, we’ll explore the unique characteristics of the Asian Giant Hornet, its behavior, diet, life cycle, and much more. Prepare to dive deep into the world of the world’s largest hornet.

The Asian Giant Hornet at a Glance


Species:V. mandarinia

Essential Information

Average Size:1.8 inches (45mm)
Average Weight:Approximately 0.002 pounds (1 gram)
Average Lifespan:Up to 6 months (Workers), 1-2 years (Queens)
Geographical Range:Eastern and Southeastern Asia
Conservation Status:Not evaluated

Species and Subspecies

Vespa mandarinia, or the Asian Giant Hornet, is part of the Vespa genus, which comprises over 20 recognized species.

While this article focuses on the Asian Giant Hornet, other notable species in the Vespa genus include Vespa tropica (Greater Banded Hornet), Vespa velutina (Yellow-Legged Hornet), and Vespa crabro (European Hornet).

Each species has unique characteristics, but the Asian Giant Hornet is notably the largest and most formidable among them.

Asian giant hornet closeupSource: Wikimedia Commons


Asian Giant Hornets have a distinctive appearance with their large size, bright coloration, and striking features. They measure about 1.8 inches (45mm) in length, with queens reaching up to 2.2 inches (55mm). The wingspan extends around 3 inches (75mm).

These hornets have a vivid yellow-orange head, a brown thorax, and a striped abdomen in brown and yellowish-orange hues. Their most notable feature is perhaps the large mandibles, which are powerful and shaped somewhat like shark fins.

There is no significant sexual dimorphism in Asian Giant Hornets, though the females (both workers and queens) are typically larger than the males. Also, only females possess stingers.

Habitat and Distribution

Asian Giant Hornets are native to the temperate and tropical climates of Eastern, South Eastern, and South Asia. Their geographical range spans countries including China, India, Nepal, Vietnam, and parts of Russia and Japan.

These hornets are adaptable and can inhabit a variety of natural environments, including low mountains, forests, and the edges of urban areas. They typically build their nests underground, often using burrows abandoned by other animals.

Two Asian giant hornets on a treeSource: Wikimedia Commons


Asian Giant Hornets are diurnal creatures and exhibit social behavior, living in colonies that can contain up to 700 individuals. The colony structure is based on a caste system, which includes the queen, males (drones), and female workers. The queen is the primary reproducer, while the males and workers support the colony.

Communication among Asian Giant Hornets is facilitated through the use of pheromones, which they can use to mark food sources or to alert colony members of danger. When a hornet finds a potential food source, it releases a specific pheromone to guide other hornets to the location.

Diet and Hunting/Feeding Behavior

Asian Giant Hornets are carnivorous, primarily preying on other insects. Their diet includes a variety of insects such as beetles, wasps, and large insects, but they’re most infamous for hunting honey bees. In a process called “hawking,” they can decimate entire bee colonies, making them a significant threat to honey bee populations.

When hunting, the hornet releases a pheromone marker onto the bee colony, which signals other hornets to the location. The hornets then launch a coordinated attack, overpowering the bees and taking their larvae and pupae back to their own nest to feed their young.


Despite their large size and powerful sting, Asian Giant Hornets do face threats from predators at various stages of their life cycle. Predatory birds such as the Asian Black Bear are known to dig up and consume hornet larvae and pupae. Other insect species, including some types of beetles and large spiders, may also predate young hornets.

Notably, Japanese honey bees have evolved a remarkable defense mechanism against these hornets. When a hornet scout marks their colony, the bees will allow it to enter their hive, upon which hundreds of bees will swarm the intruder, vibrating to generate heat and effectively “cooking” the hornet to death.

Asian giant hornet in flightSource: Wikimedia Commons

Reproduction and Life Cycle

The Asian Giant Hornet’s life cycle is closely linked with its colony’s life cycle. In the spring, the fertilized queens emerge from hibernation to establish a new nest and lay eggs, which hatch into larvae in about a week.

These larvae are fed by the queen until they pupate and emerge as the first generation of female workers, who then take over the task of foraging for food and tending to the colony.

In the late summer and early fall, the queen lays eggs that develop into drones (males) and new queens. These individuals leave the nest to mate, and the fertilized queens seek out safe places to hibernate and start the cycle anew the following spring.

The original queen, the drones, and the remaining workers in the colony die off as winter approaches.

Conservation and Threats

The Asian Giant Hornet is not considered to be at risk and therefore does not have a designated conservation status. However, they pose significant risks to honey bee populations, which could have indirect impacts on ecosystems and agriculture due to the crucial role honey bees play in pollination.

Efforts to control the Asian Giant Hornet are primarily focused on protecting honey bee colonies. This includes strategies such as monitoring and destroying hornet nests, using bait traps, and employing protective equipment for bee hives.

These measures aim to balance the ecological role of the hornets with the need to safeguard honey bees and their vital contribution to our environment.

Fun Facts

  1. The Asian Giant Hornet has the nickname “yak-killer” due to its potent venom and aggressive nature. Despite its name, it’s actually more likely to target bees than large mammals.
  2. This hornet has a heat tolerance that allows it to survive in temperatures up to 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46 degrees Celsius).
  3. The sting of an Asian Giant Hornet can penetrate a beekeeper’s suit, making them a considerable risk to those working with honey bees.
  4. Asian Giant Hornets have a unique way of attacking honey bee hives, known as “slaughter and occupation” strategy. They kill the adult bees and occupy the hive, feeding the larvae to their own young.
  5. Unlike bees, Asian Giant Hornets can sting multiple times because their stingers are not barbed, and therefore do not get stuck in the skin of their victims.

Frequently Asked Questions

How dangerous is the Asian Giant Hornet to humans?

While the Asian Giant Hornet does not typically target humans unless threatened, its venomous sting can cause severe pain and, in rare cases, can be deadly to those with allergies or if multiple stings are received.

Why is the Asian Giant Hornet a threat to honey bees?

The Asian Giant Hornet is a predator of honey bees. It can decimate a honey bee colony in a matter of hours by decapitating the bees and feeding their larvae to their own young.

What is being done to control the spread of the Asian Giant Hornet?

Efforts are focused on monitoring for the presence of the hornets, destroying any found nests, and implementing protective measures for honey bee colonies, such as hornet-proof screens and traps.

Where can the Asian Giant Hornet be found?

The Asian Giant Hornet is native to parts of Asia, including China, Japan, India, and the Indochina region. There have been recent sightings in North America, specifically in the Pacific Northwest.

How big is the Asian Giant Hornet?

The Asian Giant Hornet is the world’s largest hornet, with queens reaching over 2 inches (5 centimeters) in length. Their wingspan can reach up to 3 inches (around 7.5 centimeters), and they are easily recognizable by their large size and distinctive coloring.

Top image: Wikimedia Commons

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