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Schmidt Pain Index of Insect Stings

How Much Do Insect Stings Hurt?

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Which insect inflicts the most painful sting? In the 1980's, Justin Schmidt and his colleagues decided to answer this question. They subjected themselves to the stings of 78 different Hymenopteran species, recording data on the intensity and duration of their pain.

Schmidt created a 5-point pain scale, numbered from 0 to 4. An insect that can't penetrate human skin ranks 0. The most painful stings rank 4 on the index.

In addition to numerical data on the severity and duration of the pain, Schmidt offers some rather hysterical comparisons to help you understand the depth of his suffering. Enjoy.

Sweat Bee

Pain Scale Rating: 1.0

Duration of pain: short

How the sting feels: Light, ephemeral, almost fruity. As if a tiny spark has singed a single hair on your arm.

Fire Ant

Scott Bauer, USDA Agricultural Research Service

Pain Scale Rating: 1.2

Duration of pain: 2-5 minutes

How the sting feels: Sharp, sudden, mildly alarming. Like walking across a shag carpet & reaching for the light switch.

Bullhorn Acacia Ant

Pain Scale Rating: 1.8

Duration of pain: 4-6 minutes

How the sting feels: A rare, piercing, elevated sort of pain. Someone has fired a staple into your cheek.

Bald Faced Hornet

Wikimedia Commons, PiccoloNamek

Pain Scale Rating: 2.0

Duration of pain: 3-4 minutes

How the sting feels: Rich, hearty, slightly crunchy. Similar to getting your hand mashed in a revolving door.

Yellowjacket

Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org

Pain Scale Rating: 2.0

Duration of pain: 4-10 minutes

How the sting feels: Hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine W. C. Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.

Honey Bee

Photo: © Carl Dennis, Auburn University, Bugwood.org

Pain Scale Rating: 2.0

Duration of pain: 4-10 minutes

How the sting feels: Like a matchhead that flips off and burns on your skin.

Red Harvester Ant

Flickr user jurvetson

Pain Scale Rating: 3.0

Duration of pain: 1-8 hours

How the sting feels: Bold and unrelenting. Somebody is using a drill to excavate your ingrown toenail.

Paper Wasp

Wikimedia Commons, Alvesgaspar (cc-by-sa license)

Pain Scale Rating: 3.0

Duration of pain: 5-15 minutes

How the sting feels: Caustic & burning. Distinctly bitter aftertaste. Like spilling a beaker of hydrochloric acid on a paper cut.

Tarantula Hawk

DaveHood, Wikimedia Commons

Pain Scale Rating: 4.0

Duration of pain: 3 minutes

How the sting feels: Blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair drier has been dropped into your bubble bath.

Bullet Ant

Flickr user emills1

Pain Scale Rating: 4.0+

Duration of pain: 12-24 hours

How the sting feels: Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail in your heel.

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