Long before the insects found their way to American shores, some Japanese prized them for their numbing crunch and the venomous buzz they add to liquor.
TOKYO — Long before the Asian giant hornet began terrorizing the honeybees of Washington State, the ferocious insects posed a sometimes lethal threat to hikers and farmers in the mountains of rural Japan.
But in the central Chubu region, these insects — sometimes called “murder hornets” — are known for more than their aggression and excruciating sting. They are seen as a pleasant snack and an invigorating ingredient in drinks.
The giant hornet, along with other varieties of wasps, has traditionally been considered a delicacy in this rugged part of the country. The grubs are often preserved in jars, pan-fried or steamed with rice to make a savory dish called hebo-gohan. The adults, which can be two inches long, are fried on skewers, stinger and all, until the carapace becomes light and crunchy. They leave a warming, tingling sensation when eaten.
The hornets can also give liquor an extra kick. Live specimens are drowned in shochu, a clear distilled beverage. In their death throes, the insects release their venom into the liquid, and it is stored until it turns a dark shade of amber.
The real thrill, however, is not in the eating or drinking of the giant hornet, but in the hunt.
Setting out in the early summer months, intrepid hunters track the insects to their huge nests, which can house as many as a thousand hornets and their larvae, in the boles of rotting trees or underground. They lure a hornet with a streamer attached to a piece of fish, and when it grabs the morsel and takes off, the hunting party goes on a steeplechase through the woods. Upon finding the nest, the hunters stun the insects with smoke, then use chain saws and shovels to extract it.
In other cases, the nests are rooted out by professional exterminators. Torao Suzuki, 75, said he removed 40 to 50 nests a year, getting stung as many as 30 times each season. “It hurts, it swells and it turns red, but that’s about it,” he said about the stings. “I guess I’m immune.”…
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