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Debbie Hadley

Which Insect's Sting Hurts the Most? Ask the King of Sting

By April 28, 2009

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Imagine a bold and unrelenting pain, like somebody is using a drill to excavate your ingrown toenail. That's how Justin Schmidt described the sting of a red harvester ant.

The Schmidt Pain Index ranks the pain inflicted by 78 different species of stinging ants, bees, and wasps.
The Schmidt Pain Index ranks the pain inflicted by 78 different species of stinging ants, bees, and wasps.
Photo: Getty Images/Dimas Ardian/Stringer

Schmidt, aka the "King of Sting," has personally experienced the stings of 78 different species of ants, wasps, and bees. On purpose. In the 1980's, he wanted to create a pain scale to compare the pain inflicted by different stinging insects. He and his fellow masochists, I mean, scientists, sacrificed themselves to the cause, enduring sting after sting. They rated the severity of their pain and timed how long it lasted.

In 1990, Schmidt published his comprehensive scale, known as the Schmidt Pain Index of Insect Stings. He ranked the stings on a scale of 0 (least painful) to 4 (most painful). In addition to providing good, scientific data, Schmidt shared some colorful and descriptive similes to help us understand just how much each sting hurt. He compares the sting of the bullhorn acacia ant, for example, as similar to having a staple fired into your cheek.

In the interest of honoring Schmidt's excruciating research, I've created a place for you to share your own insect sting experiences. Think of the worst sting you've ever received, and tell us what it felt like. I'll publish the best sting similes in a future blog post.

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Comments

March 11, 2012 at 6:59 pm
(1) Wasp Nest Removal Surrey says:

I am a pest controller and treat wasps every year. I get stung a few times and can say that i would never LET a wasp sting me as it hurts so much. This guy must be crazy? Check out our blog for more info on wasp stings!
<a href=""http://www.waspnestssurrey.co.uk/

February 8, 2013 at 9:51 pm
(2) Charles Savoie says:

78 stings from different species, over a period perhaps of several years, as most could be from species not local to him? Doesn’t the body build up some resistance, as in specific antibodies, to insect venom? I’m suggesting that it may be inevitable that species sampled down the line from the start, may not be accurately represented. There is overlapping chemistry in venom. Constituents of venom in Arizona species may be present to some extent in species far from there. Did he build up some measure of resistance as the samples progressed? If so accuracy seems in question. Were all the stings taken in approximately similar areas? Cheek stings should hurt more than forearm stings. When the stings were sampled, were they all from “in the wild” species? What I mean is; if they were in the wild, how can it be known for certain the venom sacs were all full at the moment of the sting? Reports of cicada killer stings are mostly “mild.” Yet, the wasp is most accessible when dragging its stung prey into the burrow. When the wasp emerges in the AM, it moves with shocking speed from the entrance into the air. I’ve seen a few reports of “severe” pain from the CK, and one saying it persists for a week. Also, as to his #3, not all paper wasps hurt as bad as a “#3,” I’ve read an electrician say a red wasp hurts worse than a 240 volt shock. Red species do hurt more; the polistes carolina had me screaming for seven hours; the red black cow killer is “traumatically” painful; another red is the Aussie bulldog ant. Finally, pain and lethality may not be 100% correlated. The bullet ant ritual uses at least dozens of ants, recovery occurs after several days. But red wasps, across the southeast and Texas, I read MD site advising 30 stings will kill “nonallergic” human. Finally, were stinging caterpillars included in the study?

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