Killer Hornets Are Taking Over China – and Europe Might be Next

woodleywonderworks, Flickr

Planning a trip to China soon? Watch out for killer hornets. It’s not just the country’s pollution that’s bad for you; Asian giant hornets have been making their way into Shaanxi Province recently, and at the size of your thumb, they’re not only a threat to local honeybees but humans as well. The hornets can actually be fatal, and the stats aren’t encouraging. In city of Ankang, the fatality toll is twice 2002-2005 average; this year alone, there have been 419 injuries and 28 deaths in the area.

Even those outside of China have cause for concern; the Chinese hornet, which is a smaller species of than the one in China, has already appeared in France, Spain, Portugal and Belgium.To get a visual of what an attack would be like, read this report via Quartz:

Here’s a chilling scene that Chen Changlin, an Ankang farmer, witnessed one evening a few days ago. As he harvested rice on evening, hornets swarmed a woman and child working nearby. When they reached Chen, they stung him for three minutes straight. Chen made it; the other two died. “The more you run, the more they want to chase you,” said another victim, whose kidneys were ravaged by the venom.

What does stung by one of these hornets feel like? Similar to having a “hot nail” through your leg according to entomologist. And that’s if you live to tell the story.

Mosquitoes Becoming Immune To DEET, Study Suggests

Deet, mosquito
According to a new study, mosquitoes are learning to ignore DEET, the BBC reports.

Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine tested the responses to DEET by the Aedes aegypti, a type of mosquito that can carry yellow fever and dengue fever and is thus particularly dangerous to adventure travelers.

In a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers say that while mosquitoes are at first repelled by DEET’s smell, they soon become accustomed to it and can return bite the wearer. Electrodes attached to the insects’ antennae show that they adjust to the scent of DEET and simply stop smelling it.

This is something I’ve heard campers and hikers comment on for quite some time now. Spending time in mosquito-ridden Missouri, I’ve noticed this trend myself. Missouri has about 55 known types of mosquito, including the Aedes aegypti.

An earlier study has raised questions about DEET being a neurotoxin. It looks like science’s next task is to find a better insect repellent.

I’ve also noticed that mosquito coils, which do not have DEET as an active ingredient, no longer seem to work on Missouri mosquitoes either. I enjoy sitting on the porch swing of my friend’s house reading. It used to be that a burning coil set nearby would keep the bugs away. No more. The last time I tried it the little bastards were attacking me so much I actually put the coil under the porch swing so the smoke rose right onto me. The mosquitoes didn’t seem to care. I soon retreated inside.

[Photo of Aedes aegypti courtesy US Department of Agriculture]

“Food” preparation around the world: a video round-up

Every savvy traveler knows that meals that are considered taboo (pets), weird (ingredients that are still alive), or gross (insectia, specific animal innards) at home are likely what’s for dinner elsewhere in the world. Even if the food or dish isn’t unappetizing by our standards, its means of preparation is often spectacle-worthy.

Thus, the following collection of videos, all devoted to the creation of specific regional delicacies from around the globe. Check them out: next time you down a shot of mezcal or snack on some fried grasshoppers, you’ll understand that someone, somewhere, put a lot of hard work into their preparation. Bon appetit!

In Mongolia, where food and other resources are scarce, innovation is crucial:




Making noodles is an art form in many parts of the world, including Xian Province in northern China:

A boss iced tea vendor in Thailand:



Too tame? Witness a testicle (from unidentified animal species; most likely goat or sheep) cooking competition in Serbia:



The “Holy Grail for [beef] head tacos,” in Oaxaca…



Cooking up grasshopper in Zambia:



Preparing maguey (a species of agave, also known as “century plant”) for mezcal in Mexico:


Brace yourself for the most disturbing food prep yet, courtesy of the United States:

Worlds largest insect discovered in New Zealand?

World's Largest Insect?New Zealand’s Little Barrier Island holds the unique distinction of being the home of the world’s largest insect species – the giant weta. This endangered bug, which resembles a very large cricket, can weigh as much as a small bird and has a wingspan that can exceed seven inches across. The creepy-critters were once common throughout New Zealand, but the introduction of rats, and other pests, by Europeans have all but eradicated the insects there.

The giant weta made headlines across the globe recently, when a former American park ranger by the name of Mark Moffett claimed to have found the largest weta ever documented. The story was accompanied by a picture of the creature happily nibbling away on a carrot while sitting in the palm of Moffett’s hand. But New Zealander’s who have seen the photo say the bug is actually average in size and probably not anywhere close to the biggest ever.

Moffett says that he, and two companions, searched the Little Barrier Island for two days before discovering the female weta that is in the photograph. When they did find her, they offered the carrot up as food, and she eagerly accepted the meal, despite the fact she was being held by a human. They let her eat long enough to get her fill and for them to snap the photos, before releasing her back into the wild. The images later turned up in the U.K.’s Telegraph newspaper, which proclaimed it the “world’s biggest insect.”

But the kiwi’s aren’t sure what all the fuss is about. They say that the bug shown in Moffett’s photo is not exceptional in any way and that even feeding them carrots is not out of the norm. And while the creatures are indeed listed as endangered, they are said to number in the thousands both on Little Barrier and Motuora Islands. In fact, New Zealander Ruud Kleinpaste, who is a trustee of Little Barrier Island, says that it is not unusual to find them while hiking there. He does acknowledge that the publicity is good for the species however, making more people aware of their existence and the efforts made to prevent their extinction.

I’m not sure what part of this story is more unnerving. The fact that a giant carrot eating bug was found in New Zealand or that it is so common there that the locals aren’t even impressed. Still, the story is another reminder of all the amazing lifeforms that we share this planet with. That is, unless you can’t stand bugs, in which case you’re probably in favor of letting the giant weta disappear.

[Photo courtesy of The Telegraph]

Hunting scorpions in South Africa’s Kruger National Park

Scropions are easy to find in South Africa's Kruger National ParkWhen travelers visit Kruger National Park in South Africa they expect to see plenty of wildlife. Most come hoping to spot the “Big Five” which includes lions, leopards, elephants, buffalo, and rhinos, but they’ll also see plenty of zebras, monkeys, and hippos too. What most don’t know is that South Africa also has more than 160 species of scorpions and countless spiders as well. While those critters aren’t quite as popular as the elephants and lions of Kruger, they can still be fun to spot while visiting the park.

On my recent visit to Kruger I had the unique opportunity to spend a day searching for a variety of scorpion and spider species with Jonathan Leeming, author of the book Scorpions of South Africa. Leeming has spent more than 25 years studying the creepy crawlies of Kruger and trekking through the bush with him is akin to tracking crocodiles with Australia’s late, great Steve Irwin. Much like Irwin, Leeming has the same enthusiasm for his work, and a big personality to match his energy. He is also extremely knowledgeable. Leeming has probably forgotten more about South Africa’s scorpion population than most people will ever know.

Leeming is well known in throughout South Africca and often teaches courses and gives lectures on scorpions and spiders. He works to help people to identify the various species native to the country so they know which ones are safe and which are best avoided. When I met him, Jonathan was preparing to give one of his courses to future safari guides. That course would help those guides to not only prevent clients from stumbling across potentially dangerous insects, but also to find some of the more interesting species to show off to travelers.Our day began with a brief lecture about the different scorpions and spiders that live in the northern Kruger region, with Leeming dispelling some of the myths about those archnids. For instance, not all the scorpions that live there are poisonous. In fact, some don’t even have a stinger at all. The trick is knowing which are dangerous and which are safe, and where they like to make their home. Jonathan showed off some of his favorite species, which were safely contained inside specimen jars, pointing out their distinguishing features and offering insights on their demeanor. Some are far more aggressive than others, which can make them potentially more dangerous as well.

Hunting scorpions in South AfricaWith the lecture portion of the class behind us, we quickly set out on foot to go in search of scorpions. Jonathan led us to a rocky hill, where we began looking for signs of the creatures. He told us that they liked to live in tight cracks between the rocks, where they could easily slide in and out without attracting the attention of other animals passing by. He also told us that scorpions love to prey on millipedes and that a sure sign of a scorpion living in the rocks was the remains of millipede rings, left over from a scorpion’s feast, along the edge of a lair.

Sure enough, we found those tell-tale signs, and were soon pulling back rocks to uncover the arachnids. Most of the members of our group were a bit trepidatious about what we might find under those rocks, but Leeming was fearless. Over the course of his research and studies, he has been stung numerous times, and while a number of the scorpion species of Kruger are harmless, there are still a few that can, and will, leave you writhing in pain. That didn’t slow Jonathan down however, and with each discovery his enthusiasm grew. Armed with long metal tweazers, Leeming was soon pulling scorpions from beneath the rocks. Before long, we had a tidy little collection of menacing looking arachnids, some of which didn’t seem to mind being examined, and others that were down right pissed off at our intrusion into their homes.

Throughout the rest of the day, we drove around Kruger National Park spotting wild game. But on numerous occasions we stopped our vehicle to explore other rocky outcroppings. Turning over those rocks, we found yet more scorpions, and it became abundantly clear that the critters were very common, even if we took little notice of them before that day. It was beginning to seem that, almost literally, there was a scorpion under every rock, and yet the number of people who are stung on an annual basis is exceedingly small. While scorpions have a bad reputation, the reality is that they aren’t nearly as dangerous as we are sometimes led to believe. Something that Leeming continually reminded us throughout the day.

Our search for Kruger scorpions didn’t end when the sun went down either. That’s when Leeming pulled out his final tip for the would-be scorpion hunters that he has spent the day with. It turns out, scorpions glow when illuminated by ultraviolet light. So as the sun went down, Jonathan handed out pocket sized flashlights armed with ultraviolet bulbs. We then began combing the area around our camp, where we discovered several more scorpions lurking not far from where we slept and ate. The little critters glowed eerily in the pale UV lighting, sticking out like sore thumbs. There was even one nestled in the knot of a tree just a few feet from our dinner table. The evening exercise served only to remind us that these arachnids are everywhere, but remain unnoticed most of the time.

At the beginning of our day, Leeming started off with a group of journalists who were leery of anything that had to do with insects in general and scorpions in particular. But before our lesson was over, each of us held a scorpion in the palm of our hand. We learned that they were not as dangerous as we had been led to believe, and that they were all around us, even if we hadn’t seen them. We also learned how to handle them safely, which could prove to be an invaluable skill should we encounter them in the future. While none of us will probably ever have an enthusiasm for arachnids to match Leeming’s, we certainly had a new found respect and understanding about the creatures.

It is doubtful that many travelers go on safari in Africa looking for scorpions, or other insects for that matter. But should you find yourself there on your future travels, don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for Africa’s smaller critters. They’re probably there, right under your nose, just waiting to be discovered.

This trip was sponsored by South African Tourism and South African Airways, but the ideas and opinions expressed here are my own.