As It Happens

Ouch! Scientist endures thousands of insect stings to measure which hurts most

File this one under the category of jobs you likely don't want to have. An Arizona scientist undured thousands of bites and stings from ants bees and wasps to determine which one of them has the most painful sting.
Entomologist Justin Schmidt wearing the world's largest ant, Dinoponera Gigantea. The Arizona scientist found out that the bullet ant has the most painful sting after devising the Schmidt Sting Pain Index. (Courtesty of Justin Schmidt )

File this one under the category of jobs you likely don't want to have.

An Arizona scientist endured thousands of bites and stings from ants, bees and wasps to determine which one of them has the most painful sting.

"Basically I've been interested in why they sting and how the stings are beneficial to the insects," Justin Schmidt tells As it Happens host Carol Off.

Entomologist Justin Schmidt with African honey bees (Courtesy of Justin Schmidt )

Schmidt, an entomologist at the University of Arizona, developed something he calls the Schmidt Sting Pain Index. It ranks the pain of insect bites on a scale of one to four, with four being the most painful. Schmidt ranked 78 different insects, which he gathered over three decades from various parts of the world. And he found that the insect you most want to avoid being bitten by is...the bullet ant.

"It's not only the most intense...but it will hurt for anywhere from 12 to 24 hours. So, that's a lot of agony to put up with for one sting," Schmidt says.

The focus of Schmidt's research is how insects use pain as a defence. He believes that bullet ants have to cause a lot of pain because they need to go to the canopy of the rainforest to get food.

"I think they have this venom to protect themselves from the most dangerous place for small animals, probably on earth is up there," he said.

The only other insect that scored a four on the index is the tarantula hawk.

"The advantage -- if you may use that terminology -- of the tarantula hawk sting over the bullet ant is that it only lasts about two or three minutes and then it goes away and vanishes."

And while he didn't rate which place on his body was the most painful to be stung (as a former As It Happens guest did and reported it was the nostril) he did do some unofficial research on the subject.

"The tongue is really, really bad. The nose is no joyride for sure. But word to the wise  is if you're bicycling near bees keep your mouth shut."

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