Top 10 Most Painful Insect Stings
Entomologist Justin Schmidt became a human voodoo doll and willingly got stung by over 80 insects in order to rank how painful they are. Schmidt rated these stings on a scale from 1-4, with 4 being the most painful. Here’s our list of the top 10 stings according to Justin.
10. Sweat Bee – Rating 1.0
The sweat bee isn’t actually one bee, but rather a common name for different kinds of bees which love salt in human sweat. These bees live alone in nests buried underground. Once these bees sting you, their stinger continues to pump venom until it is pulled out. Justin Schmidt describes the pain as a “tiny spark which has singed a single hair on your arm”, and ranks it as a 1 out of 4 on the Schmidt pain index.
9. Fire Ant – Rating 1.2
Slightly more painful than the sweat bee comes our #9 entry, the fire ant. Similar to the sweat bee, the fire ant is a general name for multiple species of stinging ants. Fire ants nest in the ground and form colonies of over 200,000 workers. Their aggressive nature means bad news for any intruders. According to Schmidt, their sting is “sharp, and mildly alarming.” He compares it to walking across a shag carpet and reaching for the light switch, and gives it a 1.2 on his pain index.
8. Bullhorn Acacia Ant – Rating 1.8
The Bullhorn Acacia Ant are tree-dwellers who have a wasp-like, orange-brown body. These ants live in symbiosis with the bullhorn acacia tree, meaning they protect the leaves of the tree from other herbivores in exchange for the inhabitance and resources the tree grants to them. The sting of this ant is painful as it burns and throbs under your skin. Schmidt gives this sting a 1.8 on the pain index, citing a “rare, piercing, elevated” pain like receiving a staple to the cheek.
7. Bald-Faced Hornet – Rating 2.0
The Bald-Faced Hornet, actually not a hornet – but a Yellow Jacket wasp – is an omnivorous insect which prey on flies, spiders and caterpillars. For this reason, they are considered to be beneficial in pest reduction. What’s not beneficial, though, is their aggression to humans and painful sting. Justin Schmidt gives their sting a score of 2.0 out of 4, and compares it to getting your hand smashed in a revolving door.
6. Yellow Jacket – Rating 2.0
You may already be familiar with the sting of our number 6 entry, the Yellow Jacket. Found in all areas of the world, these insects are known for their bright yellow and black coloring. They build their paper nests in trees, and each nest can contain up to 4000 Yellow Jackets. Their super aggressive behavior means danger for anyone who dares threaten them. Schmidt notes that their sting is “hot and smoky”, as if a cigar was extinguished on your tongue, and he rates their sting a 2.0 on his pain index.
5. Honeybee – Rating 2.0
The Honey Bee is a group of several species of bees which produce and store honey. The one most are familiar with is the Western honey bee, a species which is domesticated for its honey and pollination of crops. Honey bees are aggressive, but not all of the time. Certain factors, such as heat and humidity and heightened competition for nectar can make these bees much more aggressive than they normally are. Their sting is painful, and because their stinger is attached to their digestive tract, they typically die after stinging. On his scale, Justin Schmidt gave their sting a 2.0, and compares it to “a match head that flips off and burns on your skin.”
4. Red Harvester Ant – Rating 3.0
The Southwest US is home to number 4, the Red Harvester Ant. Resembling fire ants yet having no relation, these ants take habitat in colonies underground. They are involved in a very sophisticated social system, with highly organized labor assignments. Unlike most other ants red harvester ants can both bite aggressively and sting. Their sting contains a strong venom which increases the pain factor and can result in allergic reaction to some. Schmidt gives their sting a 3.0 out of 4, and calls their sting “bold and unrelenting”, like a drill penetrating your ingrown toenail.
3. Paper Wasp – Rating 3.0
Coming in at number 3 is the paper wasp. They get their name from the paper-like nests they create, made of particles from dead wood, plant stems and their own saliva. Unlike many entries on this list, however, the paper wasp are not too aggressive, and will only sting if their nests are threatened. If this happens, they secrete a pheromone which alerts other paper wasps to attack their victim. Their sting is incredibly painful, and can cause an allergic reaction. Schmidt compares it to spilling a beaker of hydrochloric acid on a paper cut. He assigns a 3.0 out of 4 on his pain scale.
2. Tarantula Hawk – Rating 4.0
With a pain index of 4/4 on Schmidt’s scale, the Tarantula Hawk buzzes into the number 2 spot. Dwelling among rainforests in Asia, Africa, and the Americas, they are one of the largest wasps, making them intimidating in every sense. Oh, and we forgot to mention that they prey on tarantulas. That’s right – this wasp’s sting will paralyze a tarantula, after which it drags the spider to a specialized nest. One single egg is then laid on top of the incapacitated spider, the nest is covered up, and the larva are left with their first meal. Despite their reputation, tarantula hawks are actually not very aggressive, and only attack if provoked. The pain is extreme, and can even cause fainting. Schmidt calls the pain “blinding, and shockingly electric”, comparing it to the shock from an electric hair drier dropped into your bubble bath.
1. Bullet Ant – Rating 4+
The mother of all insect stings, and one of the most painful things a human can experience, the Bullet Ant secures the number one spot on our list. Bullet Ants are found in humid rainforests in Nicaragua, Honduras, and Paraguay. These ants average around an inch in length and are usually found at the base of trees. The sting of the Bullet Ant is described by Schmidt as “fire-walking over flaming hot charcoal with a 3 inch rusty nail grinding into your feet.” The pain is instantaneous, and worsens in waves which can last well over 12 hours. Some people have even reported residual pain a whole day after being stung. The pain factor couldn’t even fit on Schmidt’s index, so he gave it a “4+” as he felt it went beyond the max limit he set.
We hope you never have the misfortune of encountering any of these painful insects! If so, make sure to seek immediate medical attention, as some of them can cause allergic reactions. Thanks for reading, and let us know what you want to see next.