Vespa mandarinia

This is the largest hornet known. It can be easily distinguished by the layman simply by virtue of its extraordinarily large size (queens may reach a shocking 50mm or more! Workers average 35 to 39mm) It is a powerfully-built species with an unusually large and broad head, fully yellow in colour. The mandibles are large and powerful. The thorax is mainly black. The abdominal pattern varies according to different regions. Specimens from Taiwan have uniformly brown abdomen with thin yellow bands and only the last segment yellow. Those from Japan have bright orange and black banding. Also, the Japanese form is said to be slightly smaller than those from Taiwan, Western China, Indochina and India.

This species is distributed across China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, parts of Russia and even India.

Above: Vespa mandarinia from Taiwan. This is a very large queen, around 43mm in length.
Below: Vespa mandarinia from Japan. An average-sized worker, 31mm in length.

The specimen in the photo below is Vespa mandarinia magnifica, an enormous queen of 45mm length and 80mm wingspan! Specimen from collection of Natural History Museum of Brussels. Photo copyright and courtesy of Jean-Luc Renneson (Belgium)

Vespa mandarinia is a well known and feared species. Besides its shocking size, it is able to launch coordinated attacks on hives of honeybees. This has been documented in several documentaries to date. Besides honeybees, they have also been known to launch coordinated attacks on the nests of other hornets and social wasps. They will also kill and use any insect they can overpower.

The nest of Vespa mandarinia is usually underground or in a crevice. Due to the location, the nest is seldom seen.

This species has a reputation as an aggressive killer. According to my girlfriend, who lives in Taiwan and observed them in the wild, they are definitely more temperamental than Vespa ducalis or Vespa tropica, but as long as vibration and fast movement is avoided, they are in fact quite calm. Their reputation is probably overrated. Still, it would be most unwise to provoke a nest of these hornets!

A number of documentaries have already been made on Vespa mandarinia. The ability to launch coordinated attacks on bees and other social wasps have raised much interest in this species. One of the best documentaries I have seen on this is titled "Hornets from Hell", and is sometimes shown on National Geographic Channel.

Vespa mandarinia is in fact present in Hong Kong. However, it appears extremely rare and I have only made three confirmed sightings so far. Click here for an article I wrote, published in the Hong Kong Entomological Bulletin, for more information on this species and Vespa analis in Hong Kong.