"Hornets From Hell" Offer Real-Life Fright

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A hornet queen lays thousands of eggs that take only a week to develop into larvae. The size of a hornet hive grows quickly as the season progresses—and so does the ravenous hunger of the young hornets.

The queen feeds her young at first, but soon an army of hornet hunters is dispatched to surrounding forests in search of more food sources. The hornets are highly industrious while their season lasts, relentlessly slaughtering other insects and building the size of their hives.

As cold weather approaches, the giant hornets' dominance comes to an end. The queens lay unfertilized eggs that will become the male hornets that are needed to fertilize a new generation of queens, which in turn hibernate until spring arrives again.

Powerful Saliva

Adult hornets feed their young by chewing the flesh of their victims into a gooey paste that the offspring devour. The larvae are well fed, and in turn provide the adults with a powerful energy-boosting cocktail in their saliva.

It's called vespa amino acid mixture, or VAAM. Regular doses of VAAM from the larvae give giant hornets their incredible stamina and energy—when pursuing prey, they can travel a range of 60 miles (96 kilometers) at speeds reaching 25 miles per hour.

The incredible effects of VAAM have not gone unnoticed in Japan: The country's latest sports drink is based on this "hornet power." It contains a synthetic form of components in the hornet larval saliva, which is touted as performance-boosting. Japanese gold medalist and world-record marathon runner Naoko Takahashi declared that VAAM gave her an edge in the Olympic Games held in Sydney, Australia.

In Japan's mountain villages, the hornets are valued as part of the basic diet. They are eaten deep fried, or even as hornet sashimi.

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