These are the worst stings in the world, according to a guy who's experienced them all


Early in his career, Justin Schmidt realized he had a problem. There was no scale that measured the pain of insect stings.

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

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

To learn the details of the venom for his dissertation on the chemistry of harvester stings, they had to analyze 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 — existing measures could be used. But the pain scale had to be created.

Thus was born the "Schmidt Pain Scale for Stinging Insects." It's a four-point system, with a four being most painful. The scale is 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 has to be discernibly more or less painful than the stings on another level. Half points can be used for pricks that fall 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:

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