In nearly half a newspaper life spent traveling the world and writing about other places, other cultures, it never once occurred to me to visit China.
That’s not to suggest I bear any antipathy for the Chinese people. But I had no desire to be led around by the ear to see only what some government escort allowed me to see, which was often said to be the fate of a Western journalist in the Maoist years.
What’s more, as the father of two wonderful daughters, I found nothing to admire about a country whose population policies encouraged female infanticide.
Those footloose years are largely behind me now, but even if they were not I recently came across a new and even more persuasive reason to avoid traveling there.
It goes by the name ofVespa mandarinia
, more commonly called the Asian giant hornet. And the adjective “giant” describes it accurately.
Its body, gold and brown striped, is 5 centimeters (roughly 2 inches) long, and its wingspan is 7.6 centimeters (3 inches). In other words, it is almost the size of a hummingbird, and has a quarter-inch-long stinger, through which it can inject a poison able to cause anaphylactic shock and kidney damage in an adult human.
They nest and travel in swarms, and according to a brief New York Times report out of Shanghai, recent hornet attacks in that province have killed 43 people and injured more than 1,600, including children.
Fleeing on foot doesn’t help, and in fact it’s said to provoke pursuit by the swarm, which can travel at 25 mph. So that’s the bad news. The worse news is thatVespa mandarinia’
s range is not limited to the Orient.
One Sunday in July of last year, an Asian giant hornet was said to have been seen in a park in Arlington Heights, Ill. Other alleged sightings have been reported from Nebraska, Detroit, Virginia Beach, North Carolina and several Florida locations.
I’ve never encountered one of these nasty creatures, though I’ve been stung by lesser insects.
Once, during a military training exercise in Georgia, a fellow infantryman and I dug a foxhole and hunkered down in it while machine gun fire raked by overhead. Too late, we discovered we’d dug into a nest of bumblebees. Getting up would have been fatal, so we just stuck it out with dime-size bees clinging to our fatigues and stinging us through the cloth.
And in a storage shed outside my Ozark cabin, red wasps nest during the winter. Having been stung more than once when opening that shed door in spring, I now go armed with an aerosol can of wasp and hornet spray.
But if the Asian giants happen to find their way to my country neighborhood, I’ll need some better defense than a spray. Because the giants are immune to it. If they come after you, the literature says, your best hope is a tennis or badminton racket.