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Episode 711: Hooked on Heroin

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Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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Giant Hornets Kill Dozens In China; Warm Temps Might Be Cause

Oct 4, 2013
Originally published on October 4, 2013 2:32 pm

Asian Giant Hornets have killed more than 40 people and injured 1,600 in central China in recent months, forcing the government there to mobilize a special medical response team.

Xinhua News Agency reports that the attacks have occurred in Shaanxi province. In the city of Ankang, 19 people have died, with 22 others killed in attacks in two adjacent cities.

Officials quoted by The New York Times said 206 people were being treated for giant hornet stings in the province's hospitals. According to the Times, "Last month, a swarm attacked a primary school in the Guangxi Autonomous Region in southern China, injuring 30 people, including 23 children. But the most serious attacks, according to the state-run news media, have taken place in ... Shaanxi."

Hornets, unlike honeybees, can sting a victim multiple times. In the case of the Asian Giant Hornets (Vespa mandarinia), which are about the size of an adult's thumb, their size means they can inject more venom, quickly delivering a potentially lethal dose.

The Guardian newspaper's Jonathan Kaiman, who traveled to Ankang, interviewed Chen, a local farmer, whose friend Yu Yihong was stung to death:

" 'When he got to the hospital, there were still two hornets in his trousers,' says Chen, a local farmer who, like many villagers, declined to give his full name to a foreign journalist. 'The hornets' poison was too strong — his liver and kidneys failed, and he couldn't urinate.'

"Yu, a square-jawed 40-year-old farmer in perfect health, had been harvesting his crops when he stepped on a nest of vespa mandarinia hornets concealed beneath a pile of dry corn husks. The hornets swarmed Yu, stinging him through his long-sleeve shirt and trousers. He ran, but the hornets chased him, stinging his arms and legs, his head and neck."

In a separate article, The Guardian writes that the majority of queen bees normally die off in the colder months. However:

"Hornets go through natural population cycles: in some years nests are scarce, while in others nests can be very common, as may be the case in central China. The reasons for this are numerous, but a prolonged period of warm weather in spring and autumn ensures an abundant food supply, allowing colonies to grow to large sizes."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.