Hornet Venom Signals Attack

August 15, 2003

It's a beautiful day for picnic...or is it? The sun is shining, the grass is soft under your feet, and the birds are singing softly. But who are those uninvited guests? Take cover! Here come the hornets!!

Hornets can be more than a simple nuisance. In Japan, about 74 people die each year after being stung by these insects. Japanese researchers have shown that hornet venom contains chemicals that tell other hornets to attack. The scientists coated filter paper with different chemicals found in hornet venom and counted the number of hornets rushing toward this target.

Surprisingly, the chemicals in hornet venom that caused the most attacks are also found in some processed foods and cosmetics. Lead researcher Dr. Masato Ono did not mention any specific foods or cosmetics, but he did say that small amounts of these chemicals are found in some natural flavors such as banana, pineapple and apple. These flavors are added to some products to enhance smell or taste. The venom of other hornet species contains chemicals used in rose and citrus fragrances.

If you live in areas frequented by hornets, you might want to avoid products with these added fragrances.

Reference and further information:

  1. Ono, M., Terabe, H., Hori, H. and Sasaki, M. Components of giant hornet alarm pheromone. Nature, 424:637-638, 2003.

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