Which Body Part Hurts The Most When Stung By A Bee? A Scientist Put Himself Through A Torturous Experiment To Find Out

Nicknamed 'cow killers,' you don't want to be stung by a velvet ant. Photo courtesy of Jillian Cowles/Johns Hopkins University Press

Pain is notoriously subjective — some people can take more of it than others.

But we need to measure pain, so scientists have derived scales that are generally considered valid ways of assessing how much one thing hurts compared to another.

When entomologist Justin Schmidt created the "Schmidt Pain Scale for Stinging Insects," he gave the world the first measure for comparing the pain of a yellow-jacket sting (he describes it as "hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine W.C. Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue") to that of a tarantula hawk wasp ("blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair dryer has just been dropped into your bubble bath").

But as Schmidt mentions in his 2016 book, "The Sting of the Wild," even his four point scale (a yellow-jacket scoring a two, the tarantula hawk a full-on four) has limitations, as stings on different parts of the body hurt in different ways.

For example, Schmidt's base for the scale, a honey bee, generally rates as a two: "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."

But a honey bee sting on the back of the hand, he writes, is a very manageable 1.5. A sting on the tongue, on the other hand, is worth bumping up to a three: "It's crawled into your soda can and stings you on the tongue. It's immediate, noisome, visceral, debilitating. For 10 minutes life is not worth living."

This differentiation raises the question: Where do stings hurt the most?

That's where Michael Smith comes in. After reportedly suffering a bee sting on the most sensitive of male body regions, the testicles, Smith devised a plan that — if this were not for science — would certainly cross the boundary into masochism.

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