Would you drink hornet spit if it helped you win a race?

Ever heard of those nightmare hornets that are about two inches long and sting people to death? They have a unique way of feeding. And for a short time, they led professional athletes to feed the same way. What would you be willing to do to win?

The Asian giant hornet is big enough to be mistaken, when flying, for a small bird. People often learn that it’s not a small bird when it comes up and stings them with a special cocktail that is primarily meant to be painful, and secondarily meant to draw other hornets to the victim. About forty people a year are stung to death by these hornets, and they’ve been known to take down full grown yaks. Hence their nickname, the yak-killer.

When scientists studied the hornets, they found that the adults’ intestinal tract could not actually digest food. It would be just like a hive animal to dutifully starve to death throughout its adult life (and it would explain their temper), but they do eat. When they gather food, they bring it back to the nest, where the larvae digest it. The larvae then spit up a few drops of liquid that the adults can eat. The young feed the adults, then, and give them extraordinary strength.

Scientists harvested this liquid (probably with a great deal of trepidation), and fed it, first to mice and then to graduate students who must have really, really wanted their degrees. Both lowly lab animals showed decreased fatigue. The researchers discovered that liquid helped people to convert their fat into energy with maximum efficiency. It gave people quick access to all their stored energy, at any time.

There is “hornet juice” on the market as a sports drink — but since it’s rather expensive, time consuming, and harrowing to try to steal food from killer bugs, the drink just contains a combination of amino acids that are meant to mimic the hornet larvae secretions. As I'm not an athlete, I don't have to drink either the fake hornet juice or the real one. Athletic io9ers, would you take a drink?

Image: Thomas Brown

[Via Wicked Bugs and Hornet Juice.]