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What’s the most painful insect sting?

With the summer months almost upon us, I thought I would brush up on my knowledge of ants and stinging insects, in preparation for their peak season.

While exploring the internet and many entomology books in search for the holy grail of stinging insect knowledge, one topic kept poking its head up time and time again. Like an entomology whack-a-mole, the Schmidt Pain Index was everywhere I looked.

With quotes such as “like rubbing acid into a paper cut,” I knew I had to find out more about this list.

What is the Schmidt Pain Index?

The Schmidt Pain Index was created by Justin O. Schmidt, an entomologist at the Carl Hayden Bee Research Centre in Arizona. Essentially it is a big list of all the stings you can get from an insect to which both Schmidt and his team subjected themselves in order to collect this data.

The pain index puts each insect on a pain scale of 0-4. 0 being completely harmless, with no pain whatsoever to 4 which in Schmidt’s words “You don’t want to know. The pain is so immediate and intense and it shuts down all illusions of life as normal. Imagine sticking a finger in a 240-volt electrical socket.”

As well as determining a level of pain for each insect, the Schmidt Pain Index also provides information in regards to the duration of the pain. The description of the pain suffered by each insect sting can be quite hysterical, but getting stung by some of these insects is no laughing matter. Not only does this provide information around the pain, but it does so in a way everyone can understand.

Schmidt has also gone on to study the chemistry behind the pain caused by insect stings (the venom), as well as how and why insects use venom as part of their defense mechanism.

The Schmidt Pain Index rankings

By 1990, the Schmidt Pain Index covered 78 different insect stings and bites all with their own ratings and unique descriptions. So without further ado, here are some of my favorite ratings.


Fire Ant

Everyone has encountered ants in their lifetime, but how many of you have been bitten by one? Each species of ant brings its own unique level of pain to the table from the mild snap of the fire ant to the excruciating agony of the bullet ant. These tiny creatures are not to be messed with.

Fire ant

  • Pain scale rating: 1.2

  • Duration of pain: 2- 5 minutes

  • Description: Sharp, sudden, mildly alarming. Like walking across a shag carpet and reaching for the light switch.

Bullhorn acacia ant

  • Pain scale rating: 1.8

  • Duration of pain: 4 -6 minutes

  • Description: A rare, piercing, elevated sort of pain. Someone has fired a staple into your cheek.

Red harvester ant

  • Pain scale rating: 3.0

  • Duration of pain: 1- 8 hours

  • Description: Bold and unrelenting. Somebody is using a drill to excavate your ingrown toenail.

Bullet ant

  • Pain scale rating: 4.0+

  • Duration of pain: 12- 24 hours

  • Description: Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3″ rusty nail in your heel.

Did You Know: The Satere-Mawe people of Brazil use bullet ants as part of their initiating rights to become a warrior. The young boys must wear a glove made from live bullet ants and endure 10 minutes of bullet ant stings.


Most people have crossed paths with some sort of bee in their lifetime, from the humble bumblebee to the busy honey bee. The majority of the time we see them collecting nectar, helping to pollinate plants. But have you ever been stung by one? If you have, you might be able to relate to Schmidt’s accurate descriptions.

Bee on flower

Sweat bee

  • Pain scale rating: 1.0

  • Duration of pain: short

  • Description: Light, ephemeral, almost fruity. As if a tiny spark has singed a single hair on your arm.

Honey bee

  • Pain scale rating: 2.0

  • Duration of pain: 4-10 minutes

  • Description: Like a match head that flips off and burns your skin.

Did You Know: Bees die after stinging you. Their stingers are barbed thus causing it to get stuck in our skin. As the bee tries to pull away she rips her stinger from her body which causes her untimely death.

Wasps and hornets

Now it’s on to the bee’s more aggressive cousins — Wasps and hornets. Anyone who has ever come across one of these stinging insects knows how painful their stings can be so it’s no surprise a range of different wasp species were featured on the Schmidt pain index.

A little-known fact is that hornets are actually a species of wasp.

Wasp on flower

Bald-faced hornet

  • Pain scale rating: 2.0

  • Duration of pain: 3- 4 minutes

  • Description: Rich, hearty, slightly crunchy. Similar to getting your hand mashed in a revolving door.

Learn more about bald-faced hornets

Yellow jacket

  • Pain scale rating: 2.0

  • Duration of pain: 4- 10 minutes

  • Description: Hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine W. C. Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.

Learn more about yellow jackets

Paper wasp

  • Pain scale rating: 3.0

  • Duration of pain: 5- 15 minutes

  • Description: Caustic and burning. Distinctly bitter aftertaste. Like spilling a beaker of hydrochloric acid on a paper cut.

Tarantula hawk

  • Pain scale rating: 4.0

  • Duration of pain: 3 minutes

  • Description: Blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair drier has been dropped into your bubble bath.

These are only a handful of the insect stings and bites rated by Schmidt and his team. Schmidt is currently working on the latest version of the pain index. It is said that the new pain index will include even more insect stings that Schmidt will subject himself to in the name of science.

Insect stings

As you can tell from the insects described on the Schmidt Pain Index, suffering from an insect sting can be quite painful unless you’re talking about bullet ants, in that case, it will be excruciating.

If you feel you have a wasp problem and are susceptible to stings, take the time to contact a professional to save you from being another victim of the insects on the Schmidt Pain Index.

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