Ever Been Stung?

Janice Stillman

While getting stung by an insect is certainly no fun, at least one entomologist has found a way to put the pain in perspective.

Justin O. Schmidt, who works at the University of Arizona and has a particular interest in stinging insects, developed the Schmidt Sting Pain Index several years ago. In Almanac fashion, it is “useful, with a pleasant degree of humor.” (Thanks to one of our contributors, who is developing a story on “hero bugs,” for bringing this to my attention.)

The Index ranks on a 4-point scale the pain of Hymenoptera, one of the largest orders of insects (over 103,000 species worldwide and including ants, bees, sawflies, wasps and others—but not all of them here). Schmidt’s impressions come from first-hand experience: He has been bitten by more than 100 species of bugs.

1.0 Sweat bee: Light, ephemeral, almost fruity. A tiny spark has singed a single hair on your arm.

1.2 Fire ant: Sharp, sudden, mildly alarming. Like walking across a shag carpet and reaching for the light switch.

1.8 Bullhorn acacia ant: A rare, piercing, elevated sort of pain. Someone has fired a staple into your cheek.

2.0 Bald-faced hornet: Rich, hearty, slightly crunchy. Similar to getting your hand mashed in a revolving door.

2.0 Yellowjacket: Hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine W.C. Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.

3.0 Red harvester ant: Bold and unrelenting. Somebody is using a drill to excavate your ingrown toenail.

3.0 Paper wasp: Caustic and burning. Distinctly bitter aftertaste. Like spilling a beaker of hydrochloric acid on a paper cut.

4.0 - Pepsis wasp: Blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair drier has been dropped into your bubble bath (if you get stung by one you might as well lie down and scream).

4.0+ Bullet ant: Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch nail in your heel.

My only memorable experience with bug bites was from a yellowjacket that got me when I disturbed, with the lawn mower, its underground nest in the remains of a tree stump. I would give it a 2.0, too.

How about you: Ever been stung?


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What an interesting

What an interesting individual! Allowing over 100 different species to sting him. I have been stung by a yellow jacket before. The pain was mostly in my head, because it was a swarm situation, so I was a little freak out. How neat! Thank you for sharing.