Getting stung by a fire ant hurts. Getting stung by a tarantula hawk hurts much, much more. But how much more does it hurt, exactly? And where does something like a honey bee rank on the pain scale?

For decades, answers to questions like these have been found by referencing the Schmidt pain index, a scale first developed and published in 1984 thanks to the self-sacrificing work of entomologist Justin O. Schmidt. The index seeks to rank the painfulness of dozens of Hymenoptera stings across a four-point spectrum. Some of these insects even warrant their own verbal descriptions; and those descriptions, as you might expect, are pretty damn awesome.

A couple points of clarification before we get to these descriptions: Schmidt's index was last officially updated in 1990. Entomologist May Berenbaum describes it succinctly in this 2003 issue of American Entomologist:

Schmidt developed a scale from 0 to 4, in which 0 was defined as the sensation of being stung by an insect that cannot penetrate human skin to 2, a familiar intermediate pain (honey bee), to 4, an intensely painful sting such as that inflicted by Paraponera clavata.

The original scale, however, did not feature the "implausibly exact numbers" you see listed below. What's more, over the years, many of Schmidt's more measured, albeit still graphic, descriptions (he once likened the pain of a Pogonomyrmex badius sting to something that "might be caused by someone turning a screw into the flesh or ripping muscles and tendons") have given way to the... more colorful descriptions like the ones listed below.


Schmidt is quick to cede the point that the scale is obviously subjective, and lacks empirical basis — though, as Straight Dope's Cecil Adams points out: "if there's anyone equipped to expound on the fine points of pain, a guy who's been stung by 150 different species in his lifetime is probably it." What follows is "Justin O. Schmidt's Guide to Verminous Hurt," and while it was originally written by Outside Magazine's Katie Arnold, it was written under Schmidt's guidance, so make of that what you will. So without further ado:

Animal:Sweat bee
Schmidt Index: 1.0
Description: Light, ephemeral, almost fruity. A tiny spark has singed a single hair on your arm.

Animal: Fire ant
Schmidt Index: 1.2
Description: Sharp, sudden, mildly alarming. Like walking across a shag carpet and reaching for the light switch.

Animal: Bullhorn acacia ant
Schmidt Index: 1.8
Description: A rare, piercing, elevated sort of pain. Someone has fired a staple into your cheek.

Animal: Bald-faced hornet
Schmidt Index: 2.0
Description: Rich, hearty, slightly crunchy. Similar to getting your hand mashed in a revolving door.

Animal: Yellowjacket
Schmidt Index: 2.0
Description: Hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine W. C. Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.

Animal: Honey bee and European hornet
Schmidt Index: 2.0
Description: Like a matchhead that flips off and burns on your skin.

Animal: Red harvester ant
Schmidt Index: 3.0
Description: Bold and unrelenting. Somebody is using a drill to excavate your ingrown toenail.

Animal: Paper wasp
Schmidt Index: 3.0
Description: Caustic and burning. Distinctly bitter aftertaste. Like spilling a beaker of hydrochloric acid on a paper cut.

Animal: Tarantula hawk
Schmidt Index: 4.0
Description: Blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair drier has been dropped into your bubble bath.

Animal: Bullet ant
Schmidt Index: 4.0+
Description: Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail grinding into your heel.

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