The Schmidt Pain Index Ranks Insect Stings

The Schmidt Pain Index Ranks Insect Stings

If you were stung by a bee during your outdoor activities, how would you rank the pain? On a scale of one to ten? From bearable to extremely bad? No matter how you classify the feeling, everyone’s experience will be different. While the concept of pain and discomfort is subjective, the Schmidt Pain Index categorizes the worst of the worst in insect stings for easy comparison.

Who is the “Schmidt” referenced in the pain index? The namesake refers to American entomologist, Justin O. Schmidt. Much of his research going back to the 1980’s has centered around the Hymenoptera order of insects. Most insects in the Hymenoptera order have stinging capabilities and include bees, wasps and ants. Schmidt’s fascination with stinging insects led him to publish an original paper in 1983 outlining the various effects of insect venom on the human body. As you can imagine, much of the effects were experienced by Schmidt personally when allowing himself to be stung by a variety of insects and documenting the experience in vivid detail.

He expanded on his original paper and refined his pain scale for various stinging insects. The pain scale ranges from 1 to 4 with “Level 1” being the least painful (sweat bees, twig ants) and “Level 4” being the most painful (tarantula hawk, bullet ant, warrior wasp), and it is further compounded by brief, but detailed descriptions of the stinging sensation. For example, Schmidt describes the sting from the velvet ant (an insect with the moniker of “cow killer ant”) as, “Explosive and long lasting, you sound insane as you scream. Hot oil from the deep fryer spilling all over your entire hand.” On the other extreme of the pain index, he describes the sting of the Indian jumping ant as, “Ah, that wonderful wake-up feeling, like coffee but oh so bitter.”

The wildly-accepted findings further evolved into a larger hypothesis of the correlation between pain and venom toxicity. While the results are still based solely on Schmidt’s own experience with stings, and will vary from person to person, we think we’ll just take his word for it.

“Ranking the Pain of Stinging Insects, From ‘Caustic’ to ‘Blinding’” Atlas Obscura
“Schmidt Pain Index of Insect Stings” About Education