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Asian Giant Hornets are particularly vicious and deliver a dose of neurotoxin to its victims. Generally an average of 59 stings are sufficient to kill a healthy non-allergic man

Given a suitable evil empire and access to scientific minds, how would it be possible to engineer a breed of hornets that can be lethal with a single sting? Ideally, the engineered hornets should be self-sustaining in that subsequent generations should be as deadly as the first.

Assume a technology level of "near future" (50 years or so in the future) and a very limited adherence to any sense of ethics.

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Additionally, please make answers answers, not comments. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Mar 30 '17 at 15:27

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Sure why not.

There are plenty of toxins out there that are lethal in small amounts. We're already getting pretty good at targeted genetic engineering using techniques such as CRISPR. Given 50 years of technological advancement we should be able to figure out how to engineer wasps to have a more lethal sting.

All you'd need to do is work your genetic magic on the queen of a hive and check the results. Pick an animal with the your desired venom (I'd recommend applying the rule of cool), isolate the genes that produce that venom, splice it into your wasps, and work out the kinks.

It should be noted that stings are common amongst professional beekeepers even with protective gear. With wasps being much more aggressive there is a significant risk of personal harm from hive maintenance during the engineering process.

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    $\begingroup$ That's why I'd suggest robot beekeepers. $\endgroup$ – T.E.D. Mar 28 '17 at 15:22
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    $\begingroup$ @T.E.D. or expendables $\endgroup$ – PyRulez Mar 29 '17 at 13:30
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    $\begingroup$ @PyRulez - Quite true. Expendable minions could actually be quite useful for this purpose, as they'd also be an occasional spot-check on how the lethality of the poison is coming along. $\endgroup$ – T.E.D. Mar 29 '17 at 13:33
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    $\begingroup$ Infrared vision would also slightly increase their lethality as warmer body-parts usually mean more blood flow. $\endgroup$ – wannabeLearner Mar 29 '17 at 15:41
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    $\begingroup$ expendables might be the better choice if they are an "evil" empire... they could use their war prisoners and undesirables to work the farms in hopes that accidents happen. This would help keep their prison population lower as well as test how lethal it is against their enemy. $\endgroup$ – ggiaquin16 Mar 29 '17 at 21:34
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So two ways I can see.

The first is simple selective breeding. Get lots of hornets and sample their venom. Take the ones with the most potent venom and cross breed their lines. In the next generation find the ones with the most potent venom, and cross breed their lines. Continue for 50 years.
Having a short maturation period means that you will get a lot of generations quickly, which will speed up the process when compared to other selective breeding programs, such as horses and dogs and seedless watermelon.

The second is genetic engineering. Splice in genes for more poisonous venom, such as cobra or other dangerous snakes.

Edit: Bonus third.
Give up on the venom and inject something else.
The most deadly insect in the world is not venomous. It's the mosquito, which transfers a malarial parasite when it bites.
Engineer a parasite (or nano machine?) that lives in the wasps venom sack and destroys the victim from the inside when transferred by sting.
It has a couple added bonuses:

  1. When the insects eventually escape the lab, they won't take the attack vector with them, and so it won't become a plague.
  2. The normal venom in the sting will act as a decoy. You get stung by a hornet, and start having a bad reaction. So you inject an epipen, maybe an antivenom if something can be developed, and the victim might not die. But if there is a secondary attack vector then they start counteracting the venom, but not the real problem.

Edit 2: Diet

So another possibility might be to find something that would build up in their systems and cause its venom to be more toxic.
The Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar is a tasty treat for birds, which the caterpillar finds objectionable. So it feasts on a diet of milkweed, in order to sequester cardenolides in its body, making the caterpillar toxic to anything that would eat it.
Through trial and error, find a chemical that won't kill the wasp outright, but is toxic to humans and can build up in its venom gland. This would bring an added punch to the wasps sting.

The last two options of course go against the new Ideally, the engineered hornets should be self-sustaining in that subsequent generations should be as deadly as the first edit, as they would potentially work with any wasp, but not be carried on genetically if/when the wasps escape (which I kind of suspect is the intended result?)

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    $\begingroup$ Nitpick: the vector is presumably carried by the wasps so if they break out, they'll carry the parasite with them. $\endgroup$ – terdon Mar 29 '17 at 9:43
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    $\begingroup$ @terdon That depends on the vector. For instance, some mosquitoes carry the malaria vector, but not all of them, and they aren't born with it. They have to bite someone that has malaria to get infected in order to spread it. If you were to snap your fingers and remove the malaria parasite (and other mosquito born diseases) from existence, then those mosquitoes would simply be nuisances, instead of a plague on humanity. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Mar 29 '17 at 14:23
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    $\begingroup$ If the wasp had to be infected with the vector before it was a carrier, and there was no way for that vector to spread to other wasps, then even if an infected wasp were to escape the vector would die with it. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Mar 29 '17 at 14:24
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    $\begingroup$ It is believed that poison dart frogs acquire their poison from their food (captive frogs are much less toxic). Rather than producing more toxic venom, maybe hornets could be engineered to eat toadstools and accumulate the alkaloid toxins in their venom (and at the same time not be affected by it themselves). $\endgroup$ – Bohemian Mar 29 '17 at 18:00
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    $\begingroup$ @Bohemian I didn't know that about poison dart frogs, but that's a great example $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Mar 30 '17 at 13:32
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Researchers notes

Abstract: Find way to terrorize people for our dark overlord-to-be. Lest we lose our research grant. So we, and our families, will not be used as test subjects by other researchers. Our new intern had an idea with hornets. So now we are going to take an already aggressive and slightly sadistic species and improve on that.

Test 1: Failure we made the Hornets (v1.1) more aggressive and we made sure the venom was both more painful and lethal. We had to terminate this first, promising, attempt when our new intern was stung at least 73 times by our Hornets (v1.1). Reviewing the monitor tapes makes it clear that the upgrades work. But he was also allergic, so it seems. Alas, all available Hornets (v1.1) died in the accident due to being crushed. On the bright side, we have a new intern opening.

Test 2: Failure this time we only fiddled with the venom in the tail of the Hornets (v1.2). We were able to "borrow" a saw-scaled viper from our colleagues in the next lab. We only had to change the venom glands a bit, and it worked. All tests with lab animals, from mice to dogs, worked quite well. But one of the downsides is the rotting of flesh. And our Hornets (v1.2) digestive system was not fast enough, or robust enough, to handle rotting flesh. By the time we figured that out the queen had died. In lighter news, the new intern seems quick on her feet, she loves to dance.

Test 3: Failure Box Jellyfish nettles work well. And we were even further along than Hornets (v1.2) in testing. Even the digestive problems were solved. Only, tragedy struck on the weekend of "Fear our Overlords", where all senior staff were at home with their families to pay due homage to this festivity. Our new intern decided to take the test one step further and introduce her pet crow to the experiment. Reviewing the tapes we conclude that the crow was scared by the noise the Hornets (v1.3) made. This, in turn, distracted our intern while working with the Hornets (v1.3) and she was stung 3 times. We estimate that one sting has enough venom to kill 10 fully grown men. But the dying process was longer then expected. Still looks extremely painful (and is hard to watch, we liked her). But with her death, her crow went nuts and killed all the Hornets (v1.3). It, too, died in the process.

Test 4: Success As a stretching of our capabilities we used inland taipan as the source species for this test. We also decided to made our Hornets (v1.4) slightly more aggressive, so a single bird will not end our experiment this time. All tests went well. As a side note, our new intern seems a bit nervous.

Presentation: Tomorrow our dear dark overlord-to-be will be visiting the research center to decide on the grant for next year. We feel quite confident in our presentation and Hornets (v1.4).

Grant Status: Denied. After the speedy yet painful death of our beloved dark overlord-to-be by Hornets (v1.4) during a botched presentation at our #13 science lab, this project has been terminated.

Status of the researchers of this project is unknown. Rumor has it they have fled to our ethereal rival, the Knights of the Neon Disco Suits. Their intern has been given over as a test subject for other groups. Long live our future dark overlord.

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  • $\begingroup$ I don't see the point of this answer. All you seem to be suggesting is "use some other species" without giving any information or ideas on how that could be done. So your answer to "how can I make hornets more deadly" seems to be "make them more deadly". $\endgroup$ – terdon Mar 29 '17 at 9:51
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    $\begingroup$ AndyD273's and sphennings's answers go a bit more into how it can be done. The general idea is to "splice" the genes from an other species into the Hornets. These new genes should code for (a different) toxicity or venom. I go a bit into the different venoms available. $\endgroup$ – Flummox - don't be evil SE Mar 29 '17 at 10:17
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    $\begingroup$ I want to see a webcomic version of this story arc. $\endgroup$ – CaM Mar 29 '17 at 20:22
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    $\begingroup$ definitely a +1 for creativity in this answer. I'd give another for Knights of the Neon Disco suits if I could. As for the substance, good pointing out some various venomous species. $\endgroup$ – Paul TIKI Mar 29 '17 at 22:40
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Firstly, How dare you?

Secondly, I'm not sure which toxins would fit best with those awful demonic entities, but whatever you find, make sure it will be compatible with the hornets' physiology. Wasps and hornets are carnivorous, so they can't afford to be poisoned by the very poison they used to kill their food. Then, breed a queen with the poison gene, and she'll make a new hive to devastate the world. Congrats on creating the worst apocalypse ever.

...have I mentioned I have an immense phobia of wasps and hornets? Also, HOW DARE YOU!?

(Just joking, I'm sure you're very awesome and that this'll be an awesome bit for your world. I just saw this, and thought I'd give my two cents on this.)

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  • $\begingroup$ Again, Srry if my answer wasn't the best. Lol $\endgroup$ – Atlas the Worldbuilder Mar 28 '17 at 15:11
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    $\begingroup$ We're on Worldbuilding here. Feel free to post your answer "in-universe", hence you can skip the apologizing. Everybody understands. This is not the first Evil Imperator asking for inspiration here, and won't be the last. $\endgroup$ – AnoE Mar 28 '17 at 16:07
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Genetically engineer them to produce Botulinum toxin as their venom or make them capable of developing a symbiotic relationship with the bacteria that produces it.

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    $\begingroup$ This toxin will kill also them. It should be such a poison what doesn't kill them, only us. $\endgroup$ – Gray Sheep Mar 29 '17 at 0:05
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    $\begingroup$ If you are engineering an organism that carries the toxin it's not unreasonable to assume that it was also made resistant to the toxin. $\endgroup$ – Joe Kissling Mar 29 '17 at 0:12
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    $\begingroup$ @MorningStar the venom of many, if not most, venomous animals would also kill them. Just like the acid in your stomach would happily kill you if any part of your body except your specially protected stomach walls were to come into contact with it. $\endgroup$ – terdon Mar 29 '17 at 9:54
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Hornets (F/A-18) have already been engineered to kill a human with a single sting!

I think engineering hornets to want to nest in cars and swarm when cars are at speed on freeways would be effective.

While I respect the (hopefully benign) curiosity of the person asking the question, and generally like the spirit of helping people solve hypothetical problems, let's at least say, for the record, and for the benefit of future readers who the least bit uncertain about the ethical disposition of this concept: "This line of thinking is totally evil!" (Hey, a bag of peanuts has an allergen warning, "contains peanuts", and a box of Wheaties cereal or Wheat Thins cautions, "contains wheat". So, let us say this concept "contains evil", shall we? LOL!)

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  • $\begingroup$ Fun question and answer...we're getting a bit silly here, no? +1 for engineering rather than breeding and nesting in cars :) $\endgroup$ – Paul TIKI Mar 29 '17 at 22:45
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    $\begingroup$ Ahaha. Welcome to World Building, and don't be paranoid now. Nobody will judge you for your answers (or questions, for that matter). People have asked questions about destroying planet Earth, making the sun go supernova, spreading pandemics all over the world and eradicating all Earthly life. Engineering hornets to kill people is pretty much nothing as compared to others you'd come across this site. +10 for a very interesting answer. Have a very enjoyable and productive stay at this place. $\endgroup$ – Youstay Igo Mar 29 '17 at 23:09
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Rabies!

Ok, I'm just riding on a lot of other peoples coat-tails here, but rabies, if unchecked, still has nearly a 50% mortality rate.

So, Tweak rabies a little bit and introduce it via your preferred method into the venom sacks of the Angry Angry wasps.

As a bonus, you would have something ready made for attack bats or guard raccoons.

Just be aware that in World War Z, the zombie bug was called African rabies, so you might be wise to be sure your strain of super rabies doesn't cause a zombie problem.

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They need some poison, what kills us, but doesn't kill them.

Some symbiotic virus would be also possible.

For example, AIDS (HIV) virus could be relatively easily modified to make it transmittable by hornets.

Note, genetical modifications are mostly not advantageous in the raw nature. It is because the Nature also makes a continuous "genetical modification", it is the evolution. These hornets will be probably weaker in the nature as the common ones, and thus they will slowly (or quickly) disappear.

Multiple genetical engineering would be needed, to provide for them also advantages.

Fortunately, there are already possibilities for that. For example, existing hornet subspecies could be crossed, or somewhere not existing, but more virulent species could be inserted into new regions. Here is an example.

If they would be genetically engineered hornets to distribute aids, it would be a problem.


  • Extension: I named AIDS only because it was first, for human surely deadly virus what came to my mind. Some other virus, or some poison, may be better. Or, maybe, even the virus could be genetically engineered to be a harmless symbiont in the hornet (or even needed for their survival), but giving faster death for us.
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  • $\begingroup$ Why AIDS? That's a very slow killer. Well, not even a killer, it "just" destroys the immune system and the other infections kill you off. In any case, it isn't a very efficient choice. There are far deadlier and more virulent diseases out there. And why would the hornets be weaker? If anything, given that they have a deadlier poison, they'd be stronger. The danger is actually exactly the inverse: because these hornets will likely be more fit, the changes will be selected for and be fixed in the population and those hornets might become the dominant species in their niche. $\endgroup$ – terdon Mar 29 '17 at 10:03
  • $\begingroup$ @terdon You are right in the first, AIDS may not be the best choice. Although we have adequate defense for most of them. Furthermore, AIDS can be transmitted within people. In the second: genetical modifications typically change the DNA into a direction what mostly doesn't correlate their original goals. If you GM hornets to produce AIDS (what is deadly only for humans), they will be probably weaker against infections, weather and our insecticide materials, and this 3 is the main cause of death in their circles, and not different animals. Typically, domesticated animals are lesser fit in the $\endgroup$ – Gray Sheep Mar 30 '17 at 17:05
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    $\begingroup$ @terdon wilderness, as the wild ones. Why? Because we, humans, actually GM-ed them: living thousands years with them, we produced for them such an environment, where their worth for us was the measurement of their fitness. It was simply done so, that always the pigs giving more and better meat, the cows giving more milk, the dogs doing their tasks more intelligently, etc. were mainly allowed to reproduce. But these cows could, for example, far lesser defend themselfes against a wild wolf pack, as their not yet domesticated ancestors could. I extended the post. $\endgroup$ – Gray Sheep Mar 30 '17 at 17:09
  • $\begingroup$ The analogy is flawed, I'm afraid. You are comparing selective breeding approaches to targeted genetic modifications. The former were explicitly attempting to make animals more docile and dependent on humans so yes, they may well have reduced their fitness in the wild. Targeted mutations, on the other hand, have no reason to do this and, in fact, usually do the opposite. That is one of the main dangers of having GN species escape into the environment. Feel fre to come over to Biology and post a question if you're interested in this! $\endgroup$ – terdon Mar 30 '17 at 17:12
  • $\begingroup$ @terdon As far I know, the current GM technology is far from being able to produce targeted mutations. As I know, a large mass of cells is modified, and the few successful one is then selected. Why could, for example, a glowing pig survive better in the wilderness and a feral, ordinary one? I am considering to join the biology SE in the moment as I have some hours to play with the questions on it. $\endgroup$ – Gray Sheep Mar 30 '17 at 17:20
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At risk of being ignored for yet another toxin/antitoxin pair:

1) Splice ricin into the venom genes so that hornets produce ricin in their venom.

2) Overwrite the hornet's ribosome genes with ribosome genes from the same species of fungus castor plant from which you took the ricin gene.

3) Tinker with activation sequence of the ribosome gene so it still works.

Muhahaha. There's no antitoxin for ricin.

My apologies I have no actual data on ricin fatal dosage I just know the fatal dose is low because it is low of all toxins in that class. My guess is this one is very dangerous because Wikipedia chose to omit any numbers on the actual toxin and only the number of beans involved.

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  • $\begingroup$ This looks pretty interesting. Could you link to and summarize references for how much ricin is needed to be sure to kill a human? That would be a nice addition, especially for interested readers. I'll give you a +1 anyway $\endgroup$ – Sec SE - clear Monica's name Mar 30 '17 at 7:04
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Genetically change the poison to cone snail poison and a hornet will be able to kill a human with one sting.

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There are a bunch of reasonable answers to this question.

And then there's nanobots. Go with nanobots. It's more fun. Have such devices move from one hornet to the next when they reproduce and wait in the hornets venom sacks - I have no idea how hornets work - till it stings something. Then make the stinging thing trigger a thing that activates the nanobots and tells them to seek out human cells, use them to reproduce, and kill them about an hour or two after the sting so the nanobots have had time to travel around the body. This should prevent humans from just cutting the stung bit off. Now all you have to do is train hornets to hate humans and you're good.

You could probably achieve all of this with a parasite or a virus if you wanted to. Zombie lore has to deal with this sort of thing a lot. Believe it or not zombies are the og of things that kill only humans for semi-believable reasons. You could probably just use a lot of the same reasoning here.

Radiation could also work since animals in general have been shown to be able to adapt to stupid levels of radiation in Chernobyl.

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  • $\begingroup$ What is «og of things»? $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Mar 30 '17 at 7:12
  • $\begingroup$ Jdlubosoz Original Gangster of things. $\endgroup$ – user32463 Mar 30 '17 at 21:28
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Assume a technology level of "near future" (50 years or so in the future) and a very limited adherence to any sense of ethics.

  • Pick the least-painful wasp species available.
  • Modify its poison glands to produce a lipo-soluble coated aerogel-like folded structure. Adjust coating to survive a few seconds inside the human body.
  • Modify the sting itself to work like a jet injector, in order to guarantee that it'll reach the circulatory system;
  • Engineer its behavior to target the likely placement of large blood vessels.

Let's assume an original, folded density of 12g/cm³ to unfolded 3-4 mg/cm³ after coating removal - that means it gains roughly 3,500 times its original size. Due to friability the structure isn't stable, so it'll shatter like glass instantly once free of the coating - but not before leaving a 5-20cm radius hole where there was only a tiny needle just a few seconds ago. If it happens inside the heart... oh well!

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Well, you did not say, how fast they should kill... So already now it is easily possible to drug a hornet with a virus or bacteria that will kill a human (see how deadly ticks can be). The drugging can happend through spraying a liquid with a bacteria over the hornet.

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  • $\begingroup$ Hi! Welcome to worldbuilding! As it stands your answer is more appropriately a comment than a true answer. Perhaps flesh it out a bit. You mention it is easily possible to drug a hornet, but have not cited a source. Did you mean it was easy to engineer or that it easily occurs in nature? $\endgroup$ – MozerShmozer Mar 29 '17 at 22:35
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    $\begingroup$ @MozerShmozer Thank you forthe comment! I was just thinking about spraying a liquid with bacteria or viruses over the hornet. There are a lot of bacteria and viruses that survive in the air. Just like the bird flue or the like. For ticks and mosquitos this happends in nature, but for a killer hornet the restrictions are far less, since it may suffice to keep the bacteria alive for an hour to be transferred to a person. In nature the bacteria often has to survive much longer periods (see nicks). $\endgroup$ – yar Mar 29 '17 at 22:49
  • $\begingroup$ @yar Welcome to WorldBuilding! If you have the time please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. There is a little "edit"-button at the end of your answer. You can use that to edit your answer to provide the information that was requested in the comments by MozerShmozer. That would be very helpful for future readers.Have fun! $\endgroup$ – Sec SE - clear Monica's name Mar 30 '17 at 11:11
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Modifying the toxins produced by hornets to make them more toxic is a simple matter of genetics. Their venom is a variant on what spiders or reptiles use. Producing venom is very resource intensive for predators. That’s why the last defense of snakes or spiders is a venomous bite. Generally they hiss, run away or use some other method to warn they do not wish to be bothered or consumed.

The same defense strategy applies to giant hornets here on earth. Their first line of defense is defensive posture, then a bite. The last line of defense is a sting. When they go marauding and attack a hive, their strategy is to bite the heads off other hornets, which removes the opposing threat. This is how they destroy another hive. But this attack, which might be very painful, is not enough to kill a human.

Giant hornets on earth are scavengers. But what will these hornets eat in this new world? Would they still be scavengers? Would they hunt down quarry, inflict a bite that disables and kills the prey so the hive can feed? If you borrow the killing technique of the Komodo Dragon, another scavenger which has no venom, but it’s saliva is full of bacteria which can kill through septicemia. Although with the dragon, it’s not important where the prey dies because they are on an island. But if the hornets attacked prey in a swarm, perhaps their bite and their sting could disable and kill prey for the hive to use as a food source. Imagine a one-minute deadly attack that leaves the flesh edible to other hornets because the virulent bacteria does not harm their digestive system, but disables prey.

That’s a hornet I’d stay clear of at all costs.

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