Although a handful of Asian giant hornets can easily defeat the defenses of honey bees, whose correspondingly small sting cannot inflict much damage against such a large predator as the giant hornet, the Japanese honey bee (Apis cerana japonica) has evolved a method of defending against the much larger predator. When a hornet scout locates a Japanese honey bee hive and approaches the nest, the scout will emit specific pheromonal hunting signals. When the honey bees detect these pheromones, a hundred or so will gather near the entrance of the nest and keep it open, apparently to draw the hornet further into the hive or allow it to enter on its own. As the hornet enters the nest, a large mob of about five hundred honey bees surround the hornet, completely covering it and preventing it from moving, and begin quickly vibrating their flight muscles. This has the effect of raising the temperature of the honey bee mass to 47 °C (117 °F). Though the honey bees can tolerate such a temperature, it is fatal to the intruder, which can handle a maximum temperature of about 45 °C (113 °F), and is effectively baked to death by the large mass of vibrating bees. Often several bees perish along with the intruder in this way, having sacrificed themselves for the survival of the colony.
First posted: SUNDAY, AUGUST 24, 2008