The Most Painful Sting in the World

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What’s the most painful sting in the insect world?

In the jungles of Panama Steve faced his fear and handled a mind blowingly painful stinger–the bullet ant.

A sting from most ants is nothing more than a painful nip, often with a bit of formic acid thrown in. But not the bullet ant. As its name suggests, a sting from one of these is like being shot!

In 1984, a man named Justin Schmidt published a paper in the journal Archives of Insect Biochemistry and Physiology. He subjected himself to the stings of 78 different insects which resulted in the Schmidt Pain Index with stings rated from 0 (no effect) to a maximum of 4 (most painful). Here are some of his pain ratings and his amusingly vivid descriptions.

1.0 – Sweat Bee: Light, ephemeral, almost fruity. As if 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 & 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 – Yellow jacket; Hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine W. C. Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.

2.0 – Honey Bee: Like a match head that flips off and burns on your skin.

3.0 – Red Harvest Ant: Bold and unrelenting. Somebody is using a drill to excavate your ingrown toenail.

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

4.0 – Tarantula Hawk Wasp: Blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair drier has been dropped into your bubble bath.

4.0 – Bullet Ant: Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail in your heel. I’d take his word for it if I were you!

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It’s really that simple. But if you’d like to read a bit more, our membership lead, Brian Hiatt, has a post for you highlighting some of our newsroom's impressive, impactful work of late—including two big investigations in just one day and covering voting rights the way it needs to be done—that we hope you’ll agree is worth supporting.

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