According to the Smithsonian Institution, the Earth is home to an estimated 1 trillion insects. That’s 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 creepy crawlers, fliers, and hoppers at any given time—more than all the stars in our universe and more than all the people who have ever existed.
But even though there are 143 million insects per person, most people’s insect horror stories are limited to a childhood wasp sting and maybe an encounter with a large spider in the bathroom of their tropical honeymoon accommodation. Big hairy deal.
The Schmidt Sting Pain Index (aka the Justin O. Schmidt Pain Index) is an amusing scale that describes the relative pain caused by different wasp, bee, sawfly and ant stings (all members of Hymenoptera, one of the largest orders of insects). So while you regale your friends with the epic tale of giant killer wasp vs. your 8-year-old self, the Schmidt Sting Pain Index is busily classifying you as a big baby.
On the scale, 0 is defined as the sensation of being stung by an insect that can’t penetrate human skin, 2 is familiar intermediate pain (like honey bees and wasps), and 4 is an intense pain. For those who aren’t a big fan of numerical scales, Schmidt also put it into words: The highest point of the scale, the level 4 sting of a bullet ant, is “likened to pain that might be caused by someone turning a screw into the flesh” or “ripping muscles and tendons.” Super fun.
Schmidt Sting Pain Index
(courtesy of Wikipedia, with descriptions embellished over time)
And in case you’re wondering how Schmidt knows all of this, he personally tested out 78 species and 41 genera of Hymenoptera, including the bullet ant. Tough cookie, he was, but not as tough as the Satere-Mawe people of Brazil.
This indigenous tribe from the Amazon uses bullet ant stings as part of their initiation rites to become a warrior. After the ants are naturally sedated, they’re woven into what looks like a leafy oven mitt, with their stingers facing inward. Once the ants regain consciousness, a boy slips them on for a full 10 minutes. He’ll experience the most excruciating stings on earth, and the pain only gets worse once the gloves come off. It lasts for days, and his his hands will become temporarily paralyzed and shake uncontrollably.
Li'l wasp sting doesn't seem so bad now, does it.