These Are The Worst Stings In The World, According To A Guy Who's Experienced Them All

The Sting of the Wild/Johns Hopkins University Press

Danielle Andrew 29 Aug 2016, 23:54

Early in his career, Justin Schmidt realized he had a problem.

Schmidt, a budding entomologist, and his zoologist wife had just returned to the University of Georgia from a trip around the country.

They'd been collecting different species of harvester ants, "nasty stinging insects whose venom chemistry was unknown," as he describes them in his fascinating new book, "The Sting of the Wild."

To learn the details of the venom for his dissertation, they had to analyze incredibly large numbers of the creatures, which meant getting up close and personal with them.

Debbie, Schmidt's wife, describes her first harvester sting in the book as a "deep ripping and tearing pain, as if someone were reaching below the skin and ripping muscles and tendons; except the ripping continued with each crescendo of pain."

After collecting buckets of the creatures, the plan was to analyze them and compare the venoms from different specimens. To assess venom, Schmidt needed to evaluate both toxicity and pain. Toxicity was straightforward — already existing measures could be used. But there was no existing scale to measure the pain of insect stings.

Thus was born the "Schmidt Pain Scale for Stinging Insects." It was a four-point system, anchored by the well-known sting of a honey bee (rating a two), something people all over the world could be familiar with. To go up or down a full point, a sting had to be discernably more or less painful than the stings on another level. Half points could be used for pricks that fell somewhere between levels.

Over the years, Schmidt added new species to the list. He mostly didn't try to get stung. It just happened, more than 1,000 times, from at least 83 different species that have been evaluated on the index.

We've picked out insects that will illustrate the full scope of the scale, including a few that demonstrate the worst of the worst:

Red fire ant
Red fire ant
 
Public domain image by Alex Wild, produced by the University of Texas "Insects Unlocked" program.

Scientific name: Solenopsis invicta

Range: Native to South America

Description: "Sharp, sudden, mildly alarming. Like walking across a shag carpet and reaching for the light switch."

Pain level: 1

Western cicada killer
Western cicada killer
 
Two of them. The female, with the stinger, is below.Chuck Holliday/Wikimedia Commons

Scientific name: Sphecius grandis

Range: North America

Description: "Pain at first sight. Like poison oak, the more your rub, the worse it gets."

Pain level: 1.5

Western honey bee
Western honey bee
 

Scientific name: Apis mellifera

Range: Native to Africa and Europe

Description: "Burning, corrosive, but you can handle it. A flaming match head lands on your arm and is quenched first with lye and then sulfuric acid."

Pain level: 2

Fierce black polybia wasp

Velvet ant (technically a wasp)

Scientific name: Dasymutilla klugii

Range: North America

Description: "Explosive and long lasting, you sound insane as you scream. Hot oil from the deep frying spilling over your entire hand."

Pain level: 3

Velvet ant (technically a wasp)
 
Female velvet ants are wingless solitary wasps that are often colorful and seen in open areas during the summer. They range in size from small, as is this 6-mm Dasymutilla asteria, to huge, nearly 25-mm "cow killers " — the bigger they get, the worse the sting.Photo courtesy of Jillian Cowles/Johns Hopkins University Press

 

Florida harvester ant
Florida harvester ant
 
The massive-headed major workers are no more aggressive than the more common, regular workers but must come in handy for moving large objects and processing seeds.Bob Peterson/Flickr

Scientific name: Pogonomyrmex badius

Range: North America

Description: "Bold and unrelenting. Somebody is using a power drill to excavate your ingrown toenail."

Pain level: 3

Tarantula hawk
Tarantula hawk
 
A tarantula hawk dragging an envenomed tarantula.Julio.ospinao/Wikimedia Commons

Scientific name: Pepsis spp.

Range: North America, Central America, and South America

Description: "Blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair dryer has just been dropped into your bubble bath."

Pain level: 4

Bullet ant
 

Scientific name: Paraponera clavata

Range: Central America and South America

Description: "Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like walking over a flaming charcoal with a 3-inch nail embedded in your heel."

Pain level: 4

Warrior (or armadillo) wasp
Warrior (or armadillo) wasp
 

Scientific name: Synoeca septentrionalis

Range: Central America and South America

Description: "Torture. You are chained in the flow of an active volcano. Why did I start this list?"

Pain level: 4

 

Read the original article on Tech Insider. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Copyright 2016.

Read next: Astronomers have detected an 'interesting' and possibly alien radio signal coming from a sun-like star

 
Comments

If you liked this story, you'll love these

This website uses cookies

This website uses cookies to improve user experience. By continuing to use our website you consent to all cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.