Monday, July 22, 2013


There was an old man of St. Bees Kamakura,
Who was stung in the arm by a wasp hornet,
When asked, "Does it hurt?"
He replied, "No, it doesn't Yes,
I'm so glad it wasn't a hornet But the swelling is going down now."
(with apologies to W. S. Gilbert)
After all the photos of hornets in the locality, I suppose it was only a matter of time. I was minding my own business, cycling off to [a sneaky early morning swim before] work on Friday, when I suddenly felt the proverbial hot nail in my arm. I didn't get a good look at it, and by the time I'd stopped the bike it had gone, so I'm not quite sure what type it was, but it certainly wasn't as big as the huge monsters we sometimes see and I assumed it was just a wasp of some sort.

On Saturday, however, the swelling spread from my fingers almost to my shoulder, and my forearm was also blistering a bit. So I toddled off to a doctor who got a nurse to smear my arm in gunk and wrap it up like a mummy, and also prescribed various potions and pills. I suppose with hindsight it would probably have been better to go sooner, but it really didn't seem bad on Friday.

The shiny sheen is some cream, but my hand is not usually this shape or colour! Unlike what people say about mukade (centipede) bites, it never made me feel ill, but the swelling did make it dificult to grip things or bend my arm much. I've had a google for likely species, and based on what I've read I think it might have been any of a giant hornet (though if so, not a huge model), or the yellow hornet, or perhaps one of these paper wasps (ashinaga, long-legged, in Japanese). But as I said, I didn't really see more than a quick glimpse of a yellow and black striped body, facing away from me.

The Doctor warned me (and the intenet concurs) that the first sting is usually safety, but the second one is very danger, due to the chance of an anaphylactic shock. Not sure what can be done really, living where we do. But although there are about 20 deaths per year in japan (making the hornet the most dangerous animal here by some distance), this is stil a very small number really, when you compare it to eg 15 deaths per day on the roads. So I don't think there is anything to panic about. There seems to be a possibility of a blood test to diagnose an allergy, which I will look into.

Anyway, by Monday night it's just about back to normal.


Steve said...

If wonder if it is worth carrying an Epipen from now on? I would worry a bit about explaining what had happened to a passerby or ambulance driver in Japanese if my throat was closing up from shock!

Steve Crook said...

My father had an allergy to wasp stings. I remember something similar happening to him once, he was stung on the forearm and by the time the swelling was at maximum there was no way he could get standard long sleeved shirt over his arm.

My mum became quite an expert wasp exterminator, able to crush them using the back of her thumbnail.

Not sure that would work for one of the jumbo hornets though.

Hank Roberts said...


Good idea.

Or wear turtlenecks and full face protection when cycling. You don't want to catch the next one above the shoulders, for sure.

crf said...

20 deaths a year! I sincerely hope that your post doesn't lead to an anxious Germany considering a giant airborne nicotinamide dump to permanently solve the deathly bee-sting problem and provide peace of mind. Bienenstich? Nein Danke!

James Annan said...

I think the epi-pen would only be worth bothering with in the event of a blood test indicating a significant probability of an allergy: based on my (limited) reading, a large local reaction like I had is actually nothing to be worried about, but I'll talk to a doctor about it. Jules thinks she saw a wasp in the same locality today, which suggests a nest and a chance of identifying the (likely) species which would be helpful. At least the Japanese are generally quite clued up about this risk.

Carrick said...

My wife and two daughters have various forms of allergies that can lead to anaphylaxis shock. Two of them have prescriptions for EpiPens. So unfortunately, I've had my share of experience with this.

You might want to carry benadryl (diphenhydramine), tablet form, with you as a "first line of defense". It is fast acting and if you take it before you start reacting, the response will be much more mild.

Were I you, I would discuss this with an allergy specialist, who could give you additional ("off the label") recommendations, and of course possibly an EpiPen. My daughter ended up going through a desensitization treatment protocol for wasp venom, and hasn't been back to the hospital since then.

Of course anytime you have an immediate systemic response, you want to take this very serious and head to an emergency treatment facility. Even then, benadryl may buy you a bit of time getting to the hospital before the severe symptoms set in. (We are 15 minutes from the nearest hospital)

Anyway very sorry for the sting. I suspect like everybody else, I've been thoroughly enjoying the photos you've shared.

jules said...

I've been seeing quite a few of what I thought were wasps around in the woods near home this year. Had a good look at one this morning, and I think they are probably "yellow hornets".

I had thought they were wasps as they are so much smaller and had brighter yellow stripes than the disntinctive giant hornet (which is unbelievably huge and sounds like a helicopter when it flies). But this morning's creature definitely had the bright yellow face and darker eyes of the hornetty things.

It looks rather like what James says stung him, so my prior is that it was one of them. The reason for further investigation is that he was stung less than a km from home on a route we travel each day, so it seems to me less like a fluke once-in-ten-year happening but rather that there is likely a nest in the neighbourhood so caution is advised for all!

bjamesj said...

Was it anything like this?

James Annan said...

Yes! Though I was cycling at the time. Usually the hornets are not particularly hostile to innocent passers-by though, which is partly why the sting was a surprise.

There'll be more hornet news shortly...

Shibui said...

Take care James. On a brighter note, I notice your trousers are the summer fashion hit at Uniqlo.

crf said...

41 dead in China from hornet stings.

jules said...

Yes - it's very interesting. The air has been thick with the smaller hornets around these parts. Climatologically spekaing, I have no idea why - it seemed like a very normal summer. One run to work thorugh the woods in August I decided to count, and got to 29 sightings (in about 6km). Far fewer now - only about 5 this morning, close to our local Zen temple..