Ever wonder what a certain insect’s bite would feel like but you’re too scared to try it yourself? Well, wonder no more because the Schmidt sting pain index has a pain scale that categorized the level of pain from different hymenopteran stings. You don’t have to doubt because he tried the stings himself. As to why one would decide to create such a pain scale, we may never know.

The Man Behind

Entomologist Justin O. Schmidt holding a tarantula hawk. It’s one of the few creatures to get a rate of 4 on his pain index. Photo by Chris Richards / Arizona Daily Star / Smithsonian Magazine

Justin Orvel Schmidt is an American entomologist born on March 23, 1947. He is the research director of the Southwest Biological Institute and studies the chemical and behavioral defenses of ants, wasps, and arachnids. He also co-authored Insect Defenses: Adaptive Mechanisms and Strategies of Prey and Predators and was the sole author of The Sting of the Wild. One day, he got curious about the effects of insect stings thus he developed the Schmidt Sting Pain Index in 1983 to measure the painfulness of different stingers. As they say, experience is the best teacher.

According to his interview with Guinness World Records, he “wanted to find out whether the most painful stings are also the ones that can do the most damage. We could already measure the damage a sting inflicts by a variety of different methods, but we had no meaningful way to measure the pain.”

Pain Level One. Cute.

Pseudomyrmex gracilis, graceful twig ant, falls in the pain level one of the Schmidt Sting Pain Index. xpdaCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Insects like the Southern fire ant, the graceful twig ant, the Western paper wasp were categorized in this level. The pain is sharp but short with the pain not lasting for more than five minutes. Most bees also fall under this level. The urban digger be, for example, was described as “almost pleasant, a lover just bit your earlobe a little too hard.”

Pain Level Two. Tolerable.

Bald-faced hornet. Its sting falls under pain level two in the Schmidt Sting Pain Index. Christierney3CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The duration of the sting of the insects that fall under this level, according to Schmidt, lasts around five to ten minutes. Most are wasps, bees, and ants like yellowjackets, Asiatic honey bees, bald-faced hornets, and Western honey bees. He said that the yellowjacket’s sting was like W. C. Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.

Pain Level Three. Nope.

One of two types of red paper wasp, Polistes Carolina. The sting of this insect falls under pain level three in the Schmidt Sting Pain Index. Chaudhary romanCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Wasps mostly fell under this category: red paper wasp, the red-headed paper wasp, and Klug’s velvet ant (also a wasp). The stings of these insects usually last from a minute to an hour. Some ants like giant bull ants and the Maricopa harvester ant are also here.

Pain Level Four. RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!

Bullet Ant. Its sting/bite is one of the few that falls under the pain level four in the Schmidt Sting Pain Index. gailhampshire from Cradley, Malvern, U.KCC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Only three insects are categorized under pain level four, which could be somehow a relief as it would be easy for us to remember the insects that we have to avoid the most. These are:

Bullet ants with “pure, intense, brilliant pain…like walking over flaming charcoal with a three-inch nail embedded in your heel.”

Tarantula hawk that’s “blinding, fierce [and] shockingly electric” although the pain only lasts for five minutes.

Warrior wasp, which sounded like the worst because according to him, it is, “torture. You are chained in the flow of an active volcano. Why did I start this list?”

Here’s a quick video of Justin Schmidt:

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