Ever been stung by a wasp? Or maybe an ant? Or a small bee? What happened? A few swear words, a sting that hurt for a few minutes, and then a nasty reddened area. That’s nothing. What you say, it really, really hurt? Of course it did, but the most common insect stings are, thankfully, usually the least painful. What we are going to talk about are stings that are two or three or four times more painful. Stings that can hurt for hours, even days. Let’s get the easy stuff out of the way: The most common small bee, ant, and wasp stings are a one on a one to four scale. What scale? Well, there’s this guy called Dr. Justin Schmidt who allowed himself to be stung by around 83 insects. No, we don’t think he’s crazy or into self harming, he’s just an entomologist, an insect kind of a guy, who wanted to know. He told Jimmy Kimmel that bugs don’t scare him, but horses do and that mosquitoes like hot women. Interesting theory. And he’s come up with the (wait for it) Schmidt Insect Sting Pain Index, ranking insects on a scale of one to four. Small bees, Southern Fire Ants, and Western Paper Wasps are for wimps and come in at measly one. We’re going for the kind of stings that Schmidt says feel like hot oil from a deep fryer poured over you hand.
And there’s more bad news. The most painful stings hurt the longest. Now, that’s not fair, but life is just that way. Here are 15 of the most painful insect stings you never want to encounter. A word of warning: If you are allergic to the sting of a particular insect and are stung, get medical help, fast. Like really fast.
15. Yellow Jacket
Despite their appearance, the North American Yellow Jacket is not a bee, but rather a predatory wasp. The Hunger Games’ “tracker jackers” are in fact a fictional genetically mutated species of Yellow Jackets that can be lethal to humans. Don’t worry, the real thing has a sting that is like having a cigar extinguished on your tongue. Now, that does not sound nice, but lethal it isn’t. Don’t swat at them. It only makes them mad and more likely to sting. The sting is a bearable 2, but the pain lasts around 10 minutes. You should know that their nests can be out of sight in bushes or hidden in the ground. Walk on it and they will come out fighting. In 2014, a Georgia cop and his K-9 companion disturbed a nest while chasing a bad guy. The cop had the angry jackets up his nose and in his ears, sustained over 50 stings, and ended up in the hospital. Both man and dog are fine.
14. Bald Face Hornet
These little North American creatures are close relatives of the Yellow Jacket and are truly social insects. They like having other Bald Face Hornets around and live in colonies, which are made every Spring from paper (really twigs and the like chewed into paper form). Nests are generally built in trees or in the eaves of a house and are the size of basketballs. Disturb or even get close to their nest, and you could find yourself facing off with fiercely protective males whose passion is protecting the nest and their queen. Get too close and you could end up with a sting that is likened to getting your hand mashed up in a revolving door. It’s another 2 on a scale of 4, with pain lasting less than 5 minutes. But, by the time we get to our top three or four entries, that pain level will seem ever so mild.
13. Western Honey Bee
With a sting that is described as a flaming match lands on your arm and is quenched first with lye and then sulfuric acid, it’s still only a measly 2. So, float like a butterfly, sting like a bee is totally apt. Believe it or not, the species are considered domesticated by human beekeepers, and can be found on every continent except Antarctica. Colonies or hives can house tens of thousands of workers (sterile females) and drones (fertile males) whose mission in life is to protect and service the queen. Beware of disturbing their colony. A couple of years ago, a Texas man did just that and ended up with around 1,000 stings. He survived. But the pain was unbearable for a while.
12. Trap-Jaw Ant
Found in Central and South America, this nasty little creature’s sting is described as “instantaneous and excruciating”: Like a rat trap snapping shut on your index finger fingernail. And the pain can last up to 10 minutes. National Geographic has dubbed it the “Fastest Jaw on the Draw”, naming this ant as the animal with the fastest snapping jaw. Think of it this way, it’s fast, up to 145 miles an hour or 2,300 times faster than the blink of an eye. A little mini-rat trap attached to a finger or your foot. Just be thankful you’re not another little insect that is about to become the Trap-Jaw ant’s lunch. Slow motion video has confirmed that the snapping jaw also is used to launch the ant into the air, a handy trick if you are trying to escape being another insect’s dinner.
11. Asian Giant Hornet
The creature looks like something from a bad horror movie, but the deadly Asian Giant Hornet is all too real. A few years ago, headlines screamed out that the Asian Giant Hornet had been responsible for 1,500 deaths in China. Its venom knocks out red blood cells and can lead to kidney failure and death. And, in the event of an allergic reaction the person can go into cardiac arrest. Ranking a 2 on the Schmidt scale, the pain can be described as excruciating and lasts for around 10 minutes. While the sting is not the most painful in the insect world, the composition of its venom can have deadly consequences. Plus, it’s the largest of all the hornets, with the queens reaching up to two inches. And that means a big bite, that leaves nasty craters at the wound site. Those in the greatest danger are those with 10 or more bites.
10. Hairy Panther Ant
As far as the Hairy Panther Ant is concerned, there’s good news and bad news. These nasty, hairy little creatures are a feature of the Southwest U.S., mainly Texas. The sting is a 2, which is made all the worse because the Hairy Panther Ant is one of the larger species of ants, with a nasty, burning, similar to skin on fire kind of sting that can hurt for 10 minutes or more. But now the good news: Some reports state that they eat termites like crazy. That makes them a great form of zero cost, totally natural pest control. Look for them in nests or simply hanging out on their own on a leaf near you. If you walk over or otherwise disturb one of their ground-based nests, be prepared for a riot of bites and intense burning pain that hangs around for a while.
9. Red Fire Ant
This close up of a worker Red Fire Ant brings to mind horror movies where a giant monster chases the good guys and usually wins. What usually happens is that someone messes up and walks over their cozy little nest. Then, wham, legions of really mad Red Fire Ants crawl all over their feet and they are left with a large number of nasty red welts and a pain that is like a startling electrical shock. It’s a 2 on a scale of 4, but because you usually end up with a lot of them, the pain is intensified. But then it only lasts around 5 minutes. According to abcnews.go.com, the Texas Red Fire Ant is under siege from a recent import from South America, the “Crazy Ant”. Why “Crazy”? Well, the pesky creature has a taste for everything from livestock to electrical equipment and leaves a trail that is so erratic that it seems it may have had one too many. So, more drunk than crazy.
8. Northern Paper Wasp
This is our last 2 out of 4 entry. We’re about to get into intense pain category. The nasty thing about the Northern Paper Wasp is that it can sting many times. And once stung, the victim is marked with an alarm odor that is like a signal to nearby wasps to attack and sting over and over again. It is an intense burning pain that can last around 5 minutes. Like tuna or chicken? Eat them and run the risk of attracting the pesky little wasp. And if you are outdoors and drinking a can of soda, you could end up with a Northern Paper Wasp or two taking a swim. Don’t even think about what happens if you drink them in and they are still alive. And where you find one Northern Paper Wasp, you are likely to find a whole colony.
7. Metricus Paper Wasp
It has a caustic and burning sting that is so intense it seems unreal. It’s our first 3. That’s the bad news. But there is good news. Unlike the other insects with the most painful stings, the North American Metricus Paper Wasp is relatively small and so there is less venom and the pain only lasts around a minute. They build their nests in barns or in the eaves of houses. Disturb their nest and you could be in for a nasty swarm and a multitude of wildly burning, intense stings. The Metricus Paper Wasp forages, far and wide for food and water and, the strange thing is, they seem to know how far they are going to travel when they leave the colony. For long journeys, they head straight up and high into the sky. For short journeys, they exit from the side horizontally.
6. Red Paper Wasp
Imagine having a paper cut on your finger and then pouring hydrochloric acid over it and you will just only begin to understand the intensity of a pain that can last up to 10 minutes. It’s caustic and burning with a nasty bitter aftertaste. And these wasps happily live in Europe, Mexico, and parts of North America. So, it’s likely that you will encounter them and their level 3 sting. In some places they are called the Umbrella Wasp. But whether Red or Umbrella, they have a sting that you would not be likely to forget for a long, long time. And one thing to note about wasps: Unlike bees, they can sting you more than once, as their stinger is not embedded in your skin. They can keep coming back for more.
5. Red Harvester Ant
If you are ever in the southwestern part of the United States, you could be in for a big treat. This busy little ant forages and hoards loads of seeds. Their sting is a definite and solid 3 and has been compared to a drill excavating an ingrown toenail. That’s pain on top of pain, an elegant multi-level experience. And disturb one of their ground-based mound nests and you could be in for more stings than you ever wanted to contemplate. You can usually spot the nest, sometimes resembling a walled fortress with a tunnel entrance, on open ground. Once they are established, they are pretty easy to spot. That’s good news, of sorts.
4. Velvet Ant
The Velvet Ant is not an ant, but rather a wasp. With its distinctive red/orange and black hairy body, these little creatures are a perfect Halloween accessory, save for the fact that their sting is described as “explosive and long lasting… [like] hot oil from the deep fryer spilling over your entire hand”. And the good news just keeps coming, as the pain can last 30 minutes or more. And, trust us, it’ll seem like hours. It’s a solid, painful 3. Get stung and expect to scream like a thing possessed. And, in Kentucky, the largest of the Velvet Ants, the “Cow Killer” can be up to an inch long. And yes, it can kill cows. The females are wingless. But look out for the males. They have wings.
3. Tarantula Hawk Wasp
We’ve saved the most painful for last. We are into the 4’s. Meet the Tarantula Hawk Wasp. The Tarantula Hawk can grow to 2 or 3 inches long and lives in Asia, Africa, and the Americas. So, other than Europe, they are pretty much everywhere. There’s more bad news: The sting is probably as bad as the most painful sting (coming up), but the pain is of shorter duration, usually only lasting around 5 minutes. Think of lounging in a nice warm bath, only to have a running hair dryer thrown in. Once their 1/3 of an inch stinger penetrates, you experience a burning, intensive cattle prod kind of shock. But they do have their uses, as they hunt and kill tarantulas and serve them up as food.
2. Warrior Wasp
Meet the Darth Vader of insects, the Warrior Wasp. With a sting that is described as “torture” and like “being chained in the flow of an active volcano”, we arrive at the second most painful sting in the world. It is a level 4 sting that can last for hours. With its Darth Vader helmet and ferocious behavior, the Warrior Wasp can wreak havoc in its native Central and South America. They are out to make trouble and aggressively guard their nest. You can see a number of seemingly angry wasps outside the nest, beating their wings in a synchronized display of threatening behavior. Stay away.
1. Bullet Ant
The pain level is 4+ and is the most painful sting in the world. It is truly like being shot by a bullet. According to Schmidt, the South American Velvet Ant “really shuts you down” with “huge waves and crescendos of burning pain”. A tsunami of pain. It crashes into you and recedes. Then it is back again. Crash. Recede. Crash. Like walking on burning charcoal with a 3 inch nail embedded in your heel. It is so intense “it shuts down all illusion of life as normal”. And they can grow up to 1.2 inches long. And, even worse it can go on for half a day or more. One tribe in Brazil uses the Bullet Ant in an initiation rite that introduces young men into adulthood. They stuff a bunch of angry ants into gloves that the young initiates wear for up to 10 minutes. Some introduction.
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