Justin Schmidt’s colourful descriptions include how the sting of a yellowjacket wasp is like ‘W. C. Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue’ Most of us will have felt the pain of a bee sting. Luckily most of us will have avoided the dreaded pain of a tarantula hawk or a fire ant. Justin Schmidt felt all three of these – and 147 other horrible, burning sensations – after a dedicated life-long career devoted to insects. On numerous fieldwork trips, The University of Arizona entomologist would find himself digging up living colonies of creatures, who in turn were not happy with this destructive human scooping them into bags – and promptly sank their fangs, stingers or pincers into him. Still, no pain, no gain, and Schmidt turned his experiences into the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, ranking 78 species in a list which, while subjective, was put together by the man who must surely know best, ranking their pain on a scale of 1 to 4.
10. Sweat Bee, Rating: 1.0
Schmidt says: Light, ephemeral, almost fruity. A tiny spark has singed a single hair on your arm.
9. Fire Ant, Rating: 1.2
Schmidt says: Sharp, mildly alarming. Like walking across a shag carpet and reaching for the light switch.
8. Bullhorn Acacia Ant, Rating: 1.8
Schmidt says: A rare, piercing, elevated sort of pain. Someone has fired a staple into your cheek.
7. Bald-Faced Hornet, Rating: 2.0
Schmidt says: Rich, hearty, slightly crunchy. Similar to getting your hand mashed in a revolving door.
6. Yellowjacket, Rating: 2.0
Schmidt says: Hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine W. C. Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.
5. Honeybee, Rating: 2.0
Schmidt says: The sensation is like a matchhead that flips off and burns on your skin.
4. Red Harvester Ant, Rating: 3.0
Schmidt says: Bold and unrelenting. Somebody is using a drill to excavate your ingrown toenail.
3. Paper Wasp, Rating: 3.0
Schmidt says: Distinctly bitter aftertaste. Like spilling a beaker of hydrochloric acid on a paper cut.
2. Tarantula Hawk, Rating: 4.0
Schmidt says: Blinding, shockingly electric. A running hair drier has been dropped into your bubble bath.
1. Bullet Ant Rating: 4+
Schmidt says: Like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail grinding into your heel. He also gave un-scientific-sounding but apt descriptions for each pain, for instance the sting of the yellowjacket wasp felt ‘hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine W. C. Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.’
According to entomologist May Berenbaum described Schmidt’s char as: ‘A scale from 0 to 4, in which 0 was defined as the sensation of being stung by an insect that cannot penetrate human skin to 2, a familiar intermediate pain (honey bee), to 4, an intensely painful sting.’ The bullet ant, otherwise known as ‘paraponera’ or the ‘giant hunting ant’, has a powerful sting that can last for 24 hours. Some victims have likened the pain to ‘being shot with a bullet’.