The Schmidt Sting Pain Index

Our recent coverage of the Cracked story "The 5 Most Horrifying Bugs in the World" made reference to the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, something we felt the need to explore further. Apparently Dr. Justin O Schmidt, an entomologist recently retired from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Tucson Carl Hayden Bee Research Center, felt the need to create a ranking system for insect stings. More specifically Hymenoptera stings, the order of insects that includes bees, wasps, ants and sawflies. Typically the "research" was conducted on himself and frequently required provoking the little guys to murderous rage (fear?) in order to get them to attack/defend.

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Bullet ant, P. clavata

The system ranks the pain on a scale of 1 to 4, from mild irritation to "blinding, brilliant pain" as in the case of Schmidt's highest ranked sting, that of the Central American bullet ant. He has apparently been bitten four times by these little guys, including once on the cheek when the ant fell from a tree and bounced off his face. While he has induced many excruciating bites and stings the bullet ant sting is an experience he is not looking for again in the near future. "I'd have a real hard time forcing myself to get stung by a bullet ant" he told the Arizona Daily Star in 2007.

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Dr. Justin O. Schmidt's mustache is unapologetically rosy with hints of vanilla and the lightest whisps of rasberry and valencia orange.

Although Schmidt claims he is no masochist, the high cost to low benefit ratio of his research combined with descriptions of his suffering that sound like fine wine reviews make us wonder. Here is a sample from Wikipedia:

1.0 Sweat bee: Light, ephemeral, almost fruity. 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 Yellowjacket: Hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine W. C. Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.
2.x Honey bee and European hornet: Like a matchhead that flips off and burns on your skin.
3.0 Red harvester 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 Pepsis 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.

Does anyone know how to get in touch with this guy? We'd like to do a personal interview.

The Schmidt Sting Pain Index ranks the severity of insect stings. "Research was self-inflicted" and obviously, quite painful.

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A few weeks back we brought you a story on the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, a system developed to compare the relative intensity of Hymenoptera (bees, wasps and ants) stings. The index was developed through personal "research" conducted unintentionally by Dr. Justin Schmidt, an entomologist who has…
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Is there also a Schmidt Sting Itch Index? When I'd have to choose I'd pick the short sharp pain of a yellowjacket over the seemingly everlasting itch of a jellyfish sting. (But then I'm lucky in that respect, because more dangerous than that we don't have them here in the Netherlands.)

By Martijn ter Haar (not verified) on 29 Jan 2008 #permalink

Wondeful! It's for posts like this that I love Scienceblogs. Why can't there be more like this and less rattling on about pseudoscience and politics?

By curlyfries (not verified) on 29 Jan 2008 #permalink

So my favourite Wikipedia page finally hits the big time. I had long suspected it was actually creative vandalism. Turns out the measure is as odd as the creatures.

By V Profane (not verified) on 29 Jan 2008 #permalink

I think you have to send some new data with your email to get him to respond. Bracketing a new sting between two of the existing ratings is sufficient.

how does a sting have an "aftertaste"?

"More on the pepsis wasp"
Blimey! I watched that video footage. I never thought the day would ever come when I would start feeling sorry for a tarantula. Just shows - there's a first time for everything! I am just so glad that none of my near neighbours are pepsis wasps . . . or are they . . . ?

By Hilary Minor (not verified) on 29 Jan 2008 #permalink

I encourage Zooillogix to write post on Irukandji box jellyfish. This small and innocuos-looking thing causes stings that are nearly painless initially and go frequently unnoticed. Only after about an hour or so when the toxin got into circulation, a systemic reaction develops. It starts as a vague headache but it progresses into the most excrutiating pain imaginable - and the massive head-and-muscle-and skin pain lasts for day or more. Opiates do not work too well and patients can take few weeks to recover. There are many other box jellies that can do similar generalised excrutiatig pain condition - but they are less gruesome becasue the patients tend to expire from their stings promptly. Only Irukandji makes you live to tell about it.

For some reason the Harvester Ant description made me laugh like crazy.

By OptimusShr (not verified) on 30 Jan 2008 #permalink

I've been stung one or more times by most of the common North American species on that list, and I agree with his evaluations. The imagery may seem a little bizarre, but it works for me. The 'aftertaste' may be real: one tends to salivate a little extra when in pain, and there does seem to be a taste associated with some stings.

Having been hit by hornets (bailing hay in Maryland (felt like I got hit with a hammer)), yellowjackets (at Grand Canyon in Arizona (betten multiple times (like being burned))), sweat bees (in Maryland (almost like really good hot sauce)), Honeybees (in New Hampshire at college (mild)), Fire ants (while providing support for the National Guard troops at Katrina (not painful but itchy as hell)), some kind of red ant (at Death Valley (too young to remember)), brown tarantulas (Death Valley and Grand Canyon (like a sweat bee)), I can say categorically that the bald-faced hornets near the town of Halfway, Oregon (I was there for a forest fire) are, without doubt, the most painful bite in the lower 48 United States. Although a Rottweiller can hurt pretty bad, too.

By (((Billy))) (not verified) on 30 Jan 2008 #permalink

Oh, and for contact information for this guy? Check at the local emergency room.

By (((Billy))) (not verified) on 30 Jan 2008 #permalink

Deliberately getting stung by a Pepsis wasp -- now that's real dedication. Those things are big enough to bring down small aircraft. Even without the venom, it would be like getting harpooned.

As for Level 3.0: An acquaintance of mine from an entomological hobbyist website once came home more than a little tipsy and decided to obtain personal experience of a harvester ant sting. He grabbed a couple of Pogonomyrmex from a nearby anthill, held them against his arm, and ... well, he sobered up in record time.

By Julie Stahlhut (not verified) on 31 Jan 2008 #permalink

Justin didn't write those pain descriptions. A reporter that interviewed him took creative license. Pretty funny though! He'll give you the details.

Is it common to use the words "bite" and "sting" interchangably? I can see how ants confuse people as they will grab hold with their mandibles before stinging (often multiple times), but nobody seriously believes a hornet bites, right?

Spent some time in Uganda, where they had Mango Flies that would lay eggs on your laundry and the larvae would burrow into you. Spent 2 hours pulling maggots out of a kid who worked with us, him in tears the whole time.

By bunkybrewster (not verified) on 08 Sep 2008 #permalink

We are nearly painless initially and go frequently unnoticed. Only after about an hour or so when the toxin got into circulation, a systemic reaction develops.

Justin didn't write those pain descriptions. A reporter that interviewed him took creative license. Pretty funny though! He'll give you the details.

Hi, i am Harry, from Jakarta Indonesia.I Have a new species of ant. He's very unique for me. Because i never seen before. His body a half colored Red, and a half colored Green. Are you interest for see this ant?
Sorry if my english not very good for you.
Thanks

Best Regards,
Harry

Most cultures have some type of frame drum; the Egyptian Riq, the Brazilian pandeiro, the kanjira from south India, the middle eastern tar and bendir ,and the native American versions are but a few of the available frame drums. Of course, the frame drum most Westerners are familiar with is the good old tamborine.

Is it common to use the words "bite" and "sting" interchangably? I can see how ants confuse people as they will grab hold with their mandibles before stinging (often multiple times), but nobody seriously believes a hornet bites, right?