statue of Yeren child and mother

Alien species found in China include non-native pets such as fish, turtles, mice. The red-eared slider turtle has driven out many native species. Piranhas have been found in a couple of Chinese waterways.

The American vegetable leaf miner is an insect first spotted in Hainan Province in 1983. It is now found in every province except Tibet and causes $80 million worth of damage to crops every year. The fall webworm has defoliated more than 200 plant species in Beijing alone.

The Chinese White Bear is a pure white bear supposed to live in the Shennongjia forests. Bears are only found in a few places in China now. If a white bear does exist in in the Shennongjia forests it is likely and an albino or population of white brown or black bears, like the kermode bear from British Columbia.

The Tadpole Shrimp, a living fossil unchanged for over 200 million years, lives in the dry plains of northern China. The creatures lives on the bottom of temporary pools and shallow lakes, feeding on microbes and small animals in the water. The plains where it lives receive less than 40 millimeters of rain a year. The shrimp’s eggs can survive on a dry river bed for 25 years and hatch after a large downpour. [Source: ITN, July 13, 2014]

In June 2000, The Telegraph reported: “A Chinese fisherman was killed by a two-foot long arrowfish when it leapt from the sea and struck his abdomen, skewering his lungs with its pointed head. The young man, from the south-eastern province of Fujian, was fishing with a lamp from a small boat when the green fish, which has sharp spines and a long, sword-like "beak", shot out of the water. An official from the Aquatic Administration Bureau of Dongshan county said the fish might have been frightened by the lamp.” [Source: David Rennie, The Telegraph, June 27, 2000]

Yeren, Chinese Bigfoot

The “Yeren,” or “Wild Man” is an ape-like Bigfoot creature said to live deep in the remote mountains in Shennongjia Nature Reserve in Hubei Province. More than 400 people have claimed to have seen it in the Shennongjia area but no hard evidence has been found to prove its existence. It is also referred to as “Bigfoot” after the legendary North American ape-man. According to witnesses, the creature, which walks upright, is described to be more than 2 meters tall as an adult and has a gray, red or black hairy body. [Source: Xinhua, October 9, 2010]

China organized three high-profile scientific expeditions to search for the Yeren the 1970s and 1980s. Researchers found hair, footprints, excrement and sleeping nests that were said to belong to it, but no hard evidence was reported. The hairs were sent to different research institutions and universities in several cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Wuhan for identification in the 1980s. All of them returned similar test results - the hair samples did not match either humans or any known animals. [Source: Xinhua, October 9, 2010]

Attacks by Mysterious Animal in Shandong Kills Two and Injures Seven

Yeren Cave

In March 2012, CNTV reported: “In east China's Shandong Province, there has been a stunning and sudden increase in the number of cases of people being killed or hurt by wild animals. A 5-year-old boy was hospitalized after being bitten by an animal that has been described as wolf-like. Of the seven attacks in Zaozhuang city, 2 people have died with another 5 injured. [Source: Shi Wenjing, CNTV, March 26, 2012]

Police claim they have caught a wolf, but one netizen thinks otherwise. A petowner named Wang holds that the animal police captured in Zaozhuang city is his lost, 5 year old female husky. But amid the confusion and a case of mistaken identity, people continue to be attacked by an unidentified wild animal.

A one-year old boy in Mengyin county in Linyi city is the latest case. The grandmther of the wounded boy said, "My grandson was bitten when he was playing outside. It was a black-colored animal, with a long tail. I threw stones at the animal to chase it away." The boy is currently recovering in hospital. Area residents have said that five dogs have either been killed or injured by the animal, who has wreaked havoc in the area.

Li Shunhai, doctor of Mengyin People's Hospital, said, "The boy probably was bitten by a large animal judging from the wound. It bit across his face and so we think its a canine." Local authorities are still debating whether the animal is a wolf, or a feral dog. But they are warning villagers to be on alert, especially the elderly and small children. A wolf killed by local police on Monday in Zaozhuang City proved to be not from the area.

Cassowaries and Lemurs in Imperial Chinese Paintings

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Animals were common subjects of Chinese paintings. But sometimes the animals featured were pretty unusual. “E-mo Bird” by Qing Dynasty artist Yang Ta-chang (fl. 18th century) — an ink and color on paper hanging scroll, measuring 149.8 x 101 centimeters, features a cassowary, a bird indigenous to Australia and New Guinea area. Yang Ta-chang, whose birth and death dates are unknown, served the court of the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736-1795). [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei,]

The Qianlong Emperor, in his poetry and "Imperial Record on the Cassowary", wrote that this bird was not native to the West. He noted that its origins there began in 1587, when Dutchmen captured it on an island. Then it was purchased in India and presented to the king of what is now Portugal, ordering that detailed illustrations be done. The Qianlong Emperor also noted that apocryphal stories about the bird abounded. After he acquired one from a foreign ship in 1774, he refuted and/or re-examined these stories.

Kuo-jan (Lemur) from Cochi” by Lang Shih-ning (Giuseppe Castiglione, 1688-1766) is an ink and color on silk hanging scroll, measuring 109.8 x 84.7 centimeters of a lemur. According to National Palace Museum, “This work, done in 1761, depicts a ring-tailed lemur (lemur catta) native to Madagascar. However, the Qianlong Emperor's inscription calls it a "kuo-jan" from Cochin (modern Vietnam), a tributary state of the Qing. Is it possible that a ring-tailed lemur originally from the western Indian Ocean was presented as tribute to the Qing court via Vietnam?

Insects in China

Buildings in Chinese cities are being threatened by termites that eat reinforced concrete. According to experts from the Termite Prevention and Control Research Institute in southwestern Sichuan province the insects also damage wires and cables made from copper, iron and aluminum.

The Kangba Plateau in Gansu is famous for its basketball-size balls of worms. The worms cling together on the grassland so they can be pushed by the wind to a nearby river. They also form balls when they have eaten all the grass in one area and have to move on.

Shaoyang China hosts (or hosted) a bee-wearing contest. In 2011 the event attracted two contestants — a pair of Chinese apiarists — who competed to see who could attract the most bees to their bodies after one hour. The BBC reported. “Contenstants wore nothing but shorts, goggles, and nose plugs, and stood on a scales so that the weight of the bees could be calculated. Each contestant attracted the bees by locking a queen bee in a small cage and tying it to his body. The victor? 42-year old Wang Dalin, who added about 52 pounds of bees to his frame. [Source: Laura Hibbard, Huffington Post, July 18, 2011]

World's Largest Insects, from China

A Chinese scientist claimed to have found the world's largest butterfly or moth, a giant atlas moth with a total wingspan of 26 centimeters on Mt. Hanshan in Zhuang Autonomous region in Guangxi Province in southern China.

In 2014, the world's longest insect — a 62.5 centimeter (24.6 inch) stick insect — was found in a tropical forest in the southern province of Guangxi. The insect, a new type of stick insect, named "Phryganistria chinensis Zhao" after the researcher Zhao Li who discovered it after spending t years looking for the bug after hearing accounts of a giant insect from locals. "I was collecting insects on a 1,200-meter-tall (3,937-foot) mountain in Guangxi's Liuzhou City on the night of Aug. 16, 2014, when a dark shadow appeared in the distance, which looked like a tree twig," Li told Xinhua. "As I went near, I was shocked to find the huge insect's legs were as long as its body." The previous longest insect was also a stick insect that measured in at 56.5 centimeters (22.3 inches) and was from Malaysia. [Source: Kelly Dickerson, Mic, May 9, 2016]

41 People Killed in Hornets in Three Months in Shaanxi

In 2013, 41 people were killed in three months by swarms of highly venomous hornets in Ankang municipality in Shaanxi province. Jonathan Kaiman wrote in The Guardian: Chen pointed at the small plot of cabbage, spring onions and corn where his friend, Yu Yihong, had been stung to death by giant hornets. "When he got to the hospital, there were still two hornets in his trousers," said Chen, a farmer. "The hornets' poison was too strong — his liver and kidneys failed, and he couldn't urinate." Yu, a square-jawed 40-year-old farmer in perfect health, had been harvesting his crops when he stepped on a nest of Vespa mandarinia hornets concealed beneath a pile of dry corn husks. The hornets swarmed around Yu, stinging him through his long-sleeved shirt and trousers. He ran, but the hornets chased him, stinging his arms and legs, his head and neck. [Source: Jonathan Kaiman, The Guardian, October 4, 2013]

“Yu's story is a tragic but increasingly common one in Shaanxi province, where, over three months alone, hornets killed 41 people and injured a further 1,675. Ankang, a municipality in the province's south, appears to be the center of the attacks. While hornets infest its mountainous rural areas every year — 36 residents were stung to death between 2002 and 2005 — local people and municipal officials say this year it is tantamount to an epidemic, the worst they have ever seen. At least some of the deaths were caused by V mandarinia, experts say. The species does not typically attack unless it feels its nest is threatened. But when it does, it can be fierce and fast — the hornets can fly at 25mph and cover 50 miles in a day. They make their homes in tree stumps or underground, making nests extremely difficult to detect. “Two other cities in Shaanxi — Hanzhong and Shangluo — have also been besieged by hornets, though the death tolls have been markedly lower. In southern China's Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, a swarm of hornets attacked a primary school in mid-September, injuring 23 children and seven adults. The teacher, Li Zhiqiang, told pupils to hide under their desks and tried to fight the creatures off until he lost consciousness, state media reported.

“Ankang is on alert, with the local authorities posting warning notices online, on roadside treetrunks and on primary school walls. Gong Zhenghong Gong has spent nearly every night wandering the township exterminating nests. He says there are 248 hornet nests in Hongshan, with 175 close to schools and roads. Gong and his team survey nests by day; once the sun sets, they dress in homemade anti-hornet suits made from rain jackets and canvas, and burn the nests with spray-can flamethrowers. "They don't fly around at night," he said. Sometimes the team begins work in the late evening and doesn't finish until 2am. "We'd normally send the fire squad to do this, but this year there were too many nests."

“The hornets seem ubiquitous in Ankang. In Liushui township, a scattering of two-storey concrete homes sandwiched between a lush hillside and a stagnant river, an elderly shopkeeper in a purple blazer said the hornets had infested a cabbage patch near her home. "The government has been coming down and burning them, but they can't burn them all," she added, pointing down into the brush. "I'm not willing to go down there." “Mu Conghui, a 55-year-old Ankang villager, was stung 200 times while tending her rice field in late August. "These hornets are terrifying — all at once they flew to my head, and when I stopped, they stung me so much that I couldn't budge," she told state media. "My legs were crawling with hornets. Right now my legs are covered with small sting holes — over the past two months I've received 13 dialysis treatments."

“The Ankang government says it has removed 710 hives and sent 7 million yuan (£707,000) to help affected areas. "We're doing everything we can, but there's only so much we can do," says Deng Xianghong, the deputy head of the Ankang propaganda department. "God has been unfair to us." People blame this year's scourge on climate change: the past year has been unusually warm, allowing a high number of hornets to survive the winter. Huang Ronghui, an official at the Ankang Forestry Bureau's pest control department, lists a host of other possibilities: the hornets may have been agitated by a dry spell, while labourers have been moving deeper into the mountains, disturbing their nests. "Other than this, hornets are attracted to bright colours and the smell of people's sweat, alcohol and sweet things," he told state media. "They're sensitive to movement, such as running people or animals."

“The region has also been overrun by the Asian hornet, Vespa velutina, a slightly smaller species which can be equally dangerous. Hundreds, even thousands, inhabit each nest, which typically hangs from a high place. In Chengxing village, a few miles down a winding mountain road from Yu's home village, 16-year-old Tan Xingjian pointed at a tree in the distance. Hanging from one thick branch was a pale, basketball-sized bulb, its surface alive with darting black specks. "That's where they live," Tan said. "We don't dare to go near there."

Attacks by wasps killed at least 10 farmers and frightened many others in Shaanxi Province in the autumn of 2005. Some died from stings because they could not afford medical treatment. Some farmers were so afraid of attacks they left their crops unharvested. It was unclear what was behind the attacks. Some blamed reforestation projects that created more trees for wasps to build their nests in. In November 2000, The Telegraph reported: “Chinese troops are fighting killer hornets with flame-throwers in Jiepai, Sichuan province, after an eight-year-old boy was stung to death. An estimated one billion hornets are in the town. [Source: David Rennie, The Telegraph, November 4, 2000]

Invasive Insects from China

Invaders from China causing trouble include the Chinese longhorn beetles that probably hitched a ride in the timber of shipping pallets or containers is threatening North American forests. The insects first appeared in Brooklyn and from there spread to Central Park in Manhattan then Chicago and then around the United States.

Darryl Fears wrote in the Washington Post, “Brown marmorated stink bugs native to China were first discovered in Allentown, Pa., in 1998, likely after crawling out of a cargo ship. So far, the pest has been detected or established in 36 states. Detected means that they’ve been observed and confirmed through lab testing, as opposed to established, which means that they have slipped into homes by the hundreds and ravaged food crops by the thousands. [Source: Darryl Fears, Washington Post , March 16 2012]

In the Mid-Atlantic region, where brown marmorated stink bugs are well established, they caused an estimated $37 million in damage in apple crops alone in 2010, the most recent year for which data are available. Some farmers in Maryland said they ruined a third of their peach crop and half of their raspberries last year. That’s nothing compared with what the warmth-loving bug might do in Florida, said Douglas G. Luster, research leader for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service. “It could be like the atomic bomb going off,” he said, implying that the population might explode.

In 2011 and 2012 bugs were detected in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, where farmers grow juicy vegetable and citrus crops the bugs are known to destroy. “There is great fear that if the brown marmorated stink bug gets established in Florida, it will do a lot of damage,” Denise Feiber, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said. Florida is testing a non-stinging parasitic wasp from Asia, a natural stink bug predator that entomologists might unleash in October, if necessary, Feiber said. The USDA Agricultural Research Center has tested for more than a year a similar wasp that preys on stink bug eggs but has delayed its release for fear that it, too, could become an invasive pest.

Brown marmorated stink bugs, which, like kudzu bugs, give off a foul bittersweet odor like rotten cilantro when threatened. Tracy Leskey, a research entomologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said entomologists can’t stop stink bugs, but they can slow them down. The USDA research program and its academic partners received a $5.7 million grant, allowing them to watch the bugs’ every move. So far they’ve learned that males emit a scent that attracts both sexes, a possible signal that they’ve found food or they want to mate. Entomologist want to use that to trap them, or “attract and kill,” as she put it. Entomologists have found stink bugs in woods, in dead trees, under vegetation, “dispersed across the landscape,” Leskey said. “We have to think about a landscape-level solution.”

Residents in Southwest Yunnan Insured Against Animal Attacks

In December 2011, Xinhua reported: “Residents who have suffered animal attacks in the southwestern region of Xishuangbanna this year will receive 9 million yuan ($1.43 million) in compensation from a government-funded insurance project, local authorities said Wednesday. This year's compensation more than doubled the 4 million yuan offered in 2010, as the government in Xishuangbanna Dai autonomous prefecture of Yunnan province paid more for insurance in 2011 to make sure it would cover all state-protected wild animals in the region, said Chen Yong, head of the prefecture's wild animal conservation station. [Source: Xinhua, December 28, 2011]

The insurer has already paid villagers 4.57 million yuan and it is still processing the rest of the claims, Chen said. Villagers in Xishuangbanna, a tropical region that harbors much of the biodiversity in China and is home to a quarter of the country's wild animal species, have long been bothered by wild animal attacks.

The prefecture reported more than 160,000 animal attacks between 1991 and 2010, in which 39 people were killed and another 187 injured. Villagers also lost 200 million kilograms of crops and over 5,157 heads of livestock in those attacks. "The attackers are usually wild elephants, venomous snakes and black bears. Their victims can be humans, crops or domestic animals," Chen said. Xishuangbanna is home to over 250 wild Asian elephants, about 90 percent of the country's total population of the endangered species.

The local government used to compensate villagers before it signed a contract with China Pacific Insurance Co in November 2009, allowing the private insurer to cover some of the villagers' losses. Through the insurance project, villagers can get more in compensation and the local government's workload lessens, said Chen. In 2010, year, insurance only covered incidents involving endangered Asian elephants, but it was extended to include all state-protected wild animals in 2011.

Fund to Help Victims of Animal Attacks in the Nagqu Area of Tibet

In September 2002, Xinhua reported: “Victims of wildlife attacks in the Shuanghu special zone of the Nagqu Prefecture of the Tibet Autonomous Region should receive compensation from a special fund, local officials said. They called for the establishment of the fund as soon as possible to improve coexistence of the people and wildlife and protect rare animals at the Shuanghu zone, which was designated as a natural reserve in 1984. The zone covers 120,000 square kilometers with a population of only 9,000, which has become home to more than 50,000 wild yaks, over 100,000 heads of Tibetan antelopes and Mongolian gazelles, 30,000-40,000 wild asses and about 1,000 black bears. Among them, the Tibetan ass, or kiang, wild yaks and Tibetan antelopes are rare animals. [Source: Xinhua, Shanghai Daily, September 17, 2002]

The wild animals are well protected by local people under strict rules set by the authorities of the Tibet Autonomous Region. However, they pose a danger by often attacking inhabited areas, demolishing housing, devastating pastures and sometimes killing humans and livestock. According to rough statistics provided by local forest police, over the past nine years wildlife attacks have cost local herdsmen 1 million yuan (US$120,480) in loss, and left two people dead and 45 injured. Tibet boasts 18 natural reserves at the state and autonomous region levels, covering 330,000 square kilometers.

Image Sources: Kostich; Wild Alliance; AAPA; Tooter for Kids; China Science Academy; Environmental News, CNTO

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated July 2022

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