Friday, October 03, 2003

Ooooo-no, Ono:

Another one of those moments that ties together several past themes...

The other day I met Jeff Morales, who is a staff producer and cinematographer in the Natural History Unit at the National Geographic's Television & Film unit. Boy, some people get the plum jobs...

Jeff got to spend five months in the mountains near Nagano, Japan, living with several hundred Giant Japanese Hornets, Yellow Hornets, and several thousand honey bees. And when I say "living with" I really mean living with. As in the same house.

He was there, on assignment, to make a movie about these creatures. The Olympus camera company helped him create the specialized equipment necessary to film in these conditions: endoscopes, super high speed cameras, etc. (Olympus PURSUIT January 2003 Feature Article, WinMP clip, RealPlayer clip)

National Geographic ran a story last year about the movie, and it was premiered around Hallowe'en, and apparently it will be on again near Hallowe'en this year on MSNBC-TV. Look for "Hornets From Hell."

Drawing from his childhood interest in Godzilla, Mothra, and such-like movies, Jeff had great fun making the documentary in a horror flick style. The three nominations and the actual Emmy award the film won for Music & Sound Design are well-deserved.

His first encounter with the creature was great - he simply heard an amazingly low and loud hum, and suddenly there it was, hovering in front of his face, audibly clicking its enormous mandibles at him. The thing was about three inches in wingspan, and about two inches long. Think of a bright yellow, stinging, flying insect about as big as your entire thumb, from wrist to nail. Quite intimidating, to say the least.

Jeff mentioned that although no-one on the film crew was stung by a giant hornet, they had many yellow-jacket stings, and countless bee stings. His co-cinematographer friend Alastair MacEwen apparently swallowed several bees, much to the amusement of the crew. Amusing, because in comparison, the giant, Vespa mandarinia japonica, has a quarter-inch stinger, and can inject enough venom to actually destroy tissue. Jeff did have one land on his lip, and he completely froze as his crew scattered, knocking over lights and leaving equipment dropped all over the floor. But apparently she soon lost interest, and moved on.

The local culture in Honshu has developed some interesting cultural notes from living with these creatures. People make living sculptures out of hornets nests - predictably some are in the shape of Fujiyama, but most unpredictably, there is one in the shape of the Space Shuttle. And, in my entomophagy blog category, they eat the creatures. Fried adults, or raw larvae as hornet sashimi. Jeff liked the adults, but reports the larvae are an "acquired taste."

And you thought Red Bull was cool - there's a hornet amino acid sports drink, VAAM.

The heck with keeping tigers and alligators in my house and other pets that are "wild ferocious, fierce, dangerous or naturally inclined to do harm" (like carry you offstage by the throat). I'll stick with my carpet mites, thank you.