Egypt’s Oriental Hornet, Vespa orientalis

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During my recent trip to Egypt, I had a rather close encounter with a large hornet which I’ve now identified as an Oriental Hornet, Vespa orientalis.

Brushing my hair one morning, I happened to glance in the mirror only to see a hornet sitting quite calmly on my neck. My reaction was shock, and fear of the sting I was about to endure. I knew better then to swat it off with my hand, not wanting to provoke it. The next minute or two I simply tried to prepare for pain, wincing with the thought of it, but it never came. Looking in the mirror again, it was gone, and I couldn’t find it anywhere. It was as though it had never been. Being in Egypt, I thought this must be some sort of divine sign of something… in any case, I was quite relieved.

I continued to see these hornets nearly everyday and feel confident that it is Vespa orientalis. The Oriental Hornet has a broad range from Central Asia and southern Europe, to North Africa and the Middle East. It is the only member of the Vespa genus of hornets that can be found in desert climates.

They appear very large, measuring up to 35 mm long. They are a reddish brown color, with a large yellow band across their abdomen. Uniquely, the Oriental hornet can “harvest” solar energy utilizing a structure in its abdomen that traps sun rays, and a special pigment that harvests the energy captured. This allows them to be more active in the heat of mid-day. A fascinating article by BBC Earth News can be read here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_9254000/9254445.stm

Their diet consists of fruits and nectar, but also includes other insects, including honey bees, flies, and grasshoppers which they feed to the colony’s brood, the queen’s offspring. They cause serious damage to honey bee colonies and are their major predator. Because they are scavengers, they also can transmit diseases to bee hives, plants, and crops.

The Oriental Hornets sting is painful and their stingers can be used multiple times. They also have strong jaws and can bite if provoked!

Grateful my close encounter had neither bite nor sting!

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