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If you go down to the woods today

(Originally posted 28 July 06)

In the forests of the mountains of Honshu there lives an insect I hope I never meet.

It’s name is Vespa Mandarinia, and on a recent Discovery channel documentary, Masato Ono, an entomologist from Tokyo’s Tamagawa University, described the sensation of being stung by one as “like a hot nail through my leg. It is a pain that you can never imagine until you have experienced it. It is profoundly shocking.” (A few dozen people a year die from allergic reactions to the sting.) If that wasn’t enough, it has a range of 60 miles which it can cover at up to 25mph.

It’s the giant Asian hornet, and its name is no exaggeration.

It usually preys on honey bees, which are dwarves in comparison, and despite being vastly outnumbered, a handful of hornets is quite capable of taking out an entire colony of many tens of thousands of bees in a relentless attack that continues for hours and doesn’t stop until the last bee has been decapitated – the hornet uses its massive jaws to grip the bee between the head and body and simply snips the head off, and can do this to about 40 bees in one minute. Then the hornets raid the hive for the bee larvae and transport them back to their own waiting offspring to devour.

The larvae then produce a clear liquid which feeds the adult, and this liquid is high-octane, high-energy stuff. The experts, like Mr Ono, call it ‘vespa amino acid mixture’, or VAAM. Yay – Giant Hornets on Crack! Just what every picnic needs.

Meanwhile, someone has seen an opportunity. The Japanese, who are invariably ‘very busy’, have a rather unhealthy obsession with legal and illegal stimulants. On the legal side are the ubiquitous energy drinks available at every supermarket and drugstore, which deliver a quick overdose of caffeine and sugar syrup, and act as a superb substitute for sleep and food.

So now, with extracts of hornet larva excretions (yum), there is VAAM – the drink. Yes, finally someone is doing something to address the criminally neglected gap in the market for crack-based drinks. You’ll notice it’s available even in six-packs for Really Busy people.

Personally, I’d love some hornet juice, but unfortunately I’m too busy even to go to the shop and buy some.

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