Bee Season: Determine What Stung You By How Much it Hurts

Oct 27, 2009 at 1:30 pm
A bee stinger lodged in human flesh. -
A bee stinger lodged in human flesh.
A happy thought to sustain you during the last few warm days of the year, before winter squeezes us all in its icy fist:

When a tiny buzzing member of the insect order Hymenoptera decides to plunge its stinger into your tender flesh, quite often you don't really care which particular species got you. Most people refer to them as "bees" or "that little [expletive of your choice]."

But now, thanks to Justin O. Schmidt, an entomologist at the Carl Hayden Bee Research Center in Tucson and the creator of the appropriately-named and poetically-written Schmidt Sting Pain Index, you can identify what Hymenoptera stung you by how much pain it caused.

As Schmidt noted in his original paper, which covered 78 different species,  "all research was self-inflicted." He is a brave, brave man.

A few choice excerpts from the Schmidt Sting Pain Index after the jump:

  • 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.
This is, without a doubt, the most vivid and precise (we think) descriptions of insect stings we have ever read.