Ever wondered how insects like wasps, bees, and ants deliver such ferocious stings? The bullet ant is notorious for its excruciating sting, described as a piercing, stabbing pain and considered one of the most intense experiences on the insect sting pain index. But what about other insects? This article explores the world of stinging insects through entomologist Justin Schmidt’s pain index, unraveling the secrets behind different insect stings and their varying pain levels.
“It happens on the third day, as you reach for the light switch, and you’re wondering when you will ever learn.”
“Disappointing. A paper clip falls on your bare foot.”
“Did I just imagine that? A little scratch that dances with a tickle.”
“Light and ephemeral, almost fruity. A tiny spark has singed a single hair on your arm.”
“A skewering message: get lost. Surprising, because you did not touch a cactus spine, until you realize it’s from a bee.”
“Touch of fear unrealized. Oh, and I wanted to show how brave I was!”
“Size matters but isn’t everything. A silver tablespoon drops squarely onto your big toenail, sending you hopping.”
“Simple and presumptuous. Your younger sibling just nipped at your pinkie finger.”
“Itchy with a hint of sharpness. A single stinging nettle picked your hand.”
“Like a sip of tannin, bitterness lingers.”
“Clever but trivial? A little magic in that you cannot quite figure out the difference between pain and illusion.”
“Sharp with a flare of heat. Jalapeno cheese when you were expecting Havarti.”
“Deceptive, like the name. Immediate, rashy, you want to scratch away the kiss of itch. A sand crab pinched your toe while you tanned.”
“Clean, concentrated dish detergent seeps into a freshly cut finger.”
“Pain at first sight, like poison oak, the more you rub it, the worse it gets.”
“A surprising touch of nasty. Like a thorn hidden on the back of a rose stem as you clutch the bouquet.”
“Itch, burn, and more itch. A toothpick dipped in both itch powder and hot sauce and stuck in your thigh.”
“Reminiscent of a childhood bully. Intimidating, but his punch only glanced your chin, and you live for another day.”
Skunks and bears are just a couple of animals that have learned to grin-and-bear it (no pun intended) when it comes to insect stings.
Skunks dig out yellowjacket nests to consume the wasps (tasty) and bears have a taste for the honey in bee hives.
“Burning, corrosive, but you can handle it. A flaming match head lands on your arm and is quenched first with lye, then sulfuric acid.”
“Hot, smokey, almost irreverent. Imagine W.C. Field extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.”
“Rich, hearty, slightly crunchy. Similar to getting your hand smashed in a revolving door.”
“Spicy, blistering. A cotton swab dipped in habanero sauce has been pushed up your nose.”
“A robust, full-bodied wake-up call. Imagine a pair of pliers latched onto your upper lip.”
“Instantaneous, like the surprise of being stabbed. Is this what shrapnel feels like?”
“Sharp, piercing, and immediate. You know what cattle feel like when they are branded.”
“Colorful flames. Fireworks land on your arms.”
“Swift, sharp, and decisive. Your fingertip has been slammed by a car door.”
“Exquisitely sharp and expertly clean. Broadway’s favorite barber selects his next victim.”
If you’re a mouse, just four honey bee stings might kill you. If you’re a person? It might take up to 1,000 (but we don’t recommend testing that).
“Caustic and burning, with a distinctly bitter aftertaste. Like spilling a beaker of hydrochloric acid on a paper cut.”
“Immediate, irrationally intense, and unrelenting. This is the closest you will come to seeing the blue of the flame from within the fire.”
“Explosive and long lasting, you sound insane as you scream. Hot oil from the deep fryer spilling over your entire hand.”
“Bold and unrelenting. Somebody using a power drill to excavate your ingrown toenail.”
“After eight unrelenting hours of drilling into that ingrown toenail, you find the drill is wedged in the toe.”
The chemicals released by harvester ants smell like nail polish remover, while a bullet ant releases chemicals that smell like burnt garlic.
Garlic to keep vampires away? More like garlic to keep us away.
“Blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hairdryer has just been dropped into your bubble bath.”
And they bite.
When the ant bites you and formic acid is sprayed onto the wound, that’s when you feel that familiar (and oh-so unpleasant) stinging feeling.
A stinger is the evolved version of an egg-laying organ called ovipositors. It has transformed into a sharp, needle-like weapon for insects, consisting of three parts: a central stylus and two barbed sliders that move back and forth like a see-saw. The venom, which is the pain-causing liquid, is stored in a venom sac and travels through these parts.
When an insect decides to sting, it uses the central stylus to pierce the skin. The barbed parts move up and down, driving the stinger deeper and squeezing out the venom from the sac into the target.
Venom plays a crucial role in a sting. It is a mixture of various chemicals that can cause pain, inflammation, and sometimes paralysis. Specific components in the venom, such as melittin in bees and solenopsin in fire ants, are responsible for the pain we feel.
Despite their small size, insects like wasps, bees, and ants possess a powerful and cleverly designed stinger. And understanding how their stingers work ensures we learn to give them their necessary space:
Curious why different insect stings feel different? It all comes down to two main factors: the type of venom and the amount of venom delivered.
Not all insects have the same venom. Each species has its own unique blend of chemicals in their venom, designed to protect them by causing pain and deterring predators. Some venoms are more complex and contain stronger toxins, resulting in more intense pain.
For instance, bee venom contains a toxin called melittin, which directly stimulates our pain receptors and triggers inflammation. On the other hand, bullet ant venom contains poneratoxin, a toxin that can cause excruciating pain and temporary paralysis.
The quantity of venom an insect injects also affects the intensity of the sting. Some insects deliver only a small amount of venom, while others can inject a larger dose. Generally, the more venom enters your body, the more painful the sting. That’s why a sting from a small bee might be less painful than a sting from a larger hornet, even if their venoms are equally potent.
The interplay between these two factors—the type and amount of venom—determines the severity of a sting. Different insects have evolved distinct venoms and stinging capabilities based on their size, environment, and threats. It’s nature’s way of maintaining balance.
However, remember that the best way to avoid the pain of a sting is to prevent stings altogether. Be cautious around insects and respect their space, as they generally only sting to defend themselves.