Honeybees vs. a Giant Hornet

Honeybees vs. a Giant Hornet

Honey is energy-rich and its sweet smell can sometimes attract scouts of rival species that would like nothing more than to kill the bees and steal their honey.

Asian Giant Hornets

Giant hornets can be up to eight times larger than the average honeybee and, as such pose quite a danger to their smaller cousins. Their large mandibles can snap a bee in half and some species of hornet are notorious for wiping out entire honeybee hives, decapitating the whole colony and stealing the honey. However, hornets have one key weakness, they cannot bear too much heat.

Warm Bees

Within a colony, bees have the ability to act as “heater bees.” They can create warmth through either a vigorous vibration of their abdomens or the violent shaking of the muscles that control their wings (but without actually moving the wings themselves). This can bring their body temperature up to roughly 110 degrees Fahrenheit which not only warms that bee in particular but will heat up their surrounding hive members. During the winter, heater bees will travel into empty cells within the honeycomb and heat the cells. This heat will then radiate through surrounding cells, keeping the hive warmer overall. When it’s cold enough, the bees will even huddle in a pile surrounding their queen in order to keep her consistently warm. Meanwhile the bees on the outer ends will rotate with those towards the center in order to share turns in the heat and try to ensure their colony-members maintain a high enough body temperature to survive.

Some honeybee hives have discovered that this incredible ability can actually be used as a defense mechanism.

A Deadly Encounter

In Asia, when a hornet scout finds itself at the threshold of a hive full on honey, it immediately recognizes the prize within, and may begin to scent-mark the hive to return to it with backup. However, unlike European hives, where the hornets are often attacked on sight, Asian honeybees are tricky creatures.

Upon noticing the hornet, bees will begin sending off pheromones of alarm out to their hive, alerting the rest of their colony of the danger and assembling the bees to strike when the moment is right. Lured by a false sense of security, the hornet is allowed into the hive. It is untouched by the bees, almost seemingly welcomed by them until the hornet shows the slightest bit of aggression. Immediately the honeybees will swarm onto the hornet, creating a massive cluster of aggressive bees furiously vibrating. This bundle immediately begins to heat the hornet above its capacity, cooking it alive. Shortly, after, the bees will disperse, leaving behind the corpse of the hornet that expired from the heat.

Not only is this a miraculous feat, but it manages to keep both the honey and their hive in total safe from the hornets invading.

The Documented Battle

BBC Earth managed to capture this amazing but brutal survival strategy on film: