Thursday, February 23, 2012

That Stings!

No one likes the idea of being stung by a bee, wasp, hornet, or any other insect for that matter, but in reality the thought of getting stung is usually worse than the pain. Unless you’re the type who gets allergic reactions, stings from sweat bees or even yellowjackets aren’t that terribly bad.

However, there are a few insects you really do want to steer clear of, and some live closer than you think. Entomologist Justin O. Schmidt published a paper in 1990 known as the Schmidt Sting Pain Index that rates the stings of 78 species of insects on a scale of 0-4, 0 being completely ineffective against humans and 4 describing excruciating, debilitating pain. He also describes in vivid detail the experience of being stung by these insects. So if you’re wondering what bugs to really avoid this spring and summer, here are the top 3 most painful stings you can get.

3. The Paper Wasp
Photo: Joaquim Alves Gaspar
These common wasps rate a 3.0 on the Schmidt Index. He describes their sting as being “Caustic and burning….Like spilling a beaker of hydrochloric acid on a paper cut.” Ouch! There are over 300 species of paper wasps worldwide, with 22 species in North America alone. These wasps can be identified by their grey or brown honeycomb nests, which appear paper-like. Unlike yellowjackets and hornets, paper wasps are not known to be aggressive and will only attack if they feel threatened. Due to the potency of their sting, this is a very good thing!

2. The Tarantula Hawk
With a two inch-long body and 1/3 inch stinger, this giant wasp certainly lives up to its ominous-sounding name. Tarantula hawks are distributed worldwide and are common in the southwestern United States. As you can probably guess, they are named as such because they hunt the massive, hairy spiders we know as tarantulas; and their bite is as bad as their bark. Rating a 4.0 on the Schmidt Index, their sting is said to be “Blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair drier has been dropped in your bubble bath.” Luckily, the pain is said to only last about three minutes, and stings are rare unless provoked.

1. The Bullet Ant
Photo: Hans Hillewaert
The insect that tops the pain scale isn’t large, doesn’t fly, and looks relatively harmless; it isn’t. Also known as conga ants, bullet ants have the most painful sting of any insect on the planet, rating a 4+ on the Schmidt Index and described as “…waves of burning, throbbing, all-consuming pain that continues unabated for up to 24 hours…Like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail in your heel.” The bullet ant is distributed throughout forests of Central and South America. Its wrath can luckily be easily avoided simply by not attempting to handle it!

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