Bugs of Japan: The Giant Hornet and Joro Spider

macro shoot photography of brown spider
Photo by Егор Камелев on Unsplash

Key Takeaways

– The Japanese giant hornet is a large insect that can cause significant damage to honey bee populations.
– Japanese honey bees have developed a defense mechanism against the hornets by creating a ball around them and raising the temperature to kill the hornet.
– The Japanese giant hornet is venomous and can cause extreme pain to its victims.
– The Joro Spider is a poisonous spider found in Japan with distinctive red, yellow, and black markings.
– In Japanese folklore, there is a legend of a spider called Jorogumo that can transform into a beautiful woman to seduce and eat men.


Japan is known for its rich biodiversity, and this extends to its insect population. Among the many fascinating bugs found in Japan, two stand out for their size, impact, and intriguing folklore connections. The Japanese giant hornet and the Joro Spider are both creatures that inspire awe and fear in equal measure. In this article, we will explore these bugs of Japan, their characteristics, and their significance in Japanese culture.

The Japanese Giant Hornet: A Formidable Insect

The Japanese giant hornet, scientifically known as Vespa mandarinia japonica, is an impressive insect that can reach lengths of over 4 cm. It is the largest hornet species in the world and is native to Japan. These hornets have a well-defined hierarchy within their colonies, with a queen, workers, and soldiers. They primarily feed on smaller insects and crop pests, but their main concern is their impact on European honey bees.

The Threat to Honey Bees

A group of 30 Japanese giant hornets can decimate an entire 30,000-bee hive in just three hours. They have developed a strategy to attack honey bees by releasing pheromones that attract other hornets to the hive. Once inside, they kill the bees by decapitating them and carrying their thoraxes back to their own colony to feed their larvae. This behavior poses a significant threat to honey bee populations, which are crucial for pollination and the production of honey.

Defense Mechanism of Japanese Honey Bees

Japanese honey bees, however, have developed a remarkable defense mechanism against the giant hornets. When a hornet enters their hive, the bees quickly surround it and form a tight ball around it. By vibrating their flight muscles, they generate heat and raise the temperature inside the ball to a level that is lethal for the hornet but not for themselves. This collective effort allows the honey bees to protect their hive and ensure their survival.

The Venomous Sting of the Japanese Giant Hornet

Apart from their destructive impact on honey bees, the Japanese giant hornets are also known for their venomous sting. Their venom contains a potent cocktail of chemicals that can cause extreme pain, tissue damage, and even allergic reactions in humans. The sting of a Japanese giant hornet has been described as feeling like a hot nail being driven into the skin. While these hornets are generally not aggressive unless provoked, their sting can be a serious threat to those who come into contact with them.

The Joro Spider: A Poisonous Beauty

The Joro Spider, or Nephila clavata, is another intriguing insect found in Japan. It is a large spider known for its distinctive red, yellow, and black markings. The female Joro Spider can measure up to 5 cm in length, making it one of the largest spiders in Japan. While its appearance may be intimidating, its venom is not considered dangerous to humans. However, a bite from a Joro Spider can cause discomfort, including pain, swelling, and itching.

A Connection to Japanese Folklore

The Joro Spider holds a special place in Japanese folklore. There is a legend of a spider called Jorogumo, which can transform into a beautiful woman to seduce and eat men. This mythical creature is said to lure unsuspecting victims into its web, where it reveals its true form and devours them. The Joro Spider’s striking appearance and its association with this folklore make it a captivating and somewhat eerie presence in Japanese culture.


The bugs of Japan offer a fascinating glimpse into the country’s diverse insect population. The Japanese giant hornet, with its destructive impact on honey bees and venomous sting, commands respect and caution. Meanwhile, the Joro Spider, with its striking appearance and connection to folklore, adds an element of mystery to Japan’s insect world. These bugs not only contribute to the ecological balance but also inspire stories and legends that have become part of Japanese culture.

Written by Martin Cole

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