A couple of weeks ago we talked about the Schmidt Pain Index. For those of you unaware of this topic, the Schmidt Pain Index refers to a list of insect stings rating their pain levels from 0-4. But why do insects stings hurt so much?
Why Do Insect Stings Hurt?
Well, there’s a reasonable explanation for this. Insect stings such as that from a wasp are so painful because their stinger(s) actually contain a dosage of venom which they inject into their victim during a sting. That’s right it’s not just snakes and spiders that use venom but wasps, hornets, bees and ants also!
Anyone who has been stung by a bee or any other insect knows how much it hurts. This pain comes from your body’s reaction to the venom.
The venom found in hornet, bee, ant and wasp stings are a cocktail of different chemicals, some more harmful than others, just waiting to wreak havoc on your body.
Although each insect has its own string of chemicals found in their venom, unique to them, there is also a handful of other harmful substances that the majority of stinging insects share.
Melittin is a peptide, and one of the major toxic components found in bee venom. This is one of the main culprits of causing you so much pain when you get stung by a bee. Melittin is quite a nasty chemical, it has been known for being able to break up and even kill cells in your body…Ouch!
Apamin is not a very nice chemical at all, and your body certainly does not welcome it with open arms. Once you are stung by a bee the apamin quickly makes its way through your bloodstream. It can pass through your blood-brain barrier, act upon your central nervous system and block the ion channels in your body.
You can blame this chemical for the nasty, irritable itch, which follows the dreaded bee sting. MCD peptide causes degranulation of mast cells. This results in the release of your body’s inflammatory agent, histamine.
Wasps also have their own unique set of chemicals located within their venom.
Wasp Kinin is a peptide and is the primary chemical found in wasp venom. Very little is known about this chemical with research being carried out in order to characterise it fully.
Did You Know only female wasps can sting? Male wasps don’t event have their own stinger!
Much like bees and wasps, hornets also have their own chemicals, unique to them, in their venom.
Hornet Kinin is one of the main chemicals injected into your body when stung by a hornet. Much like wasp kinin very little is known about this substance.
Ants can be quite vicious, especially if you come too close to their nest. Below are a couple of chemical compounds found in ant venom.
Formic acid is found in the venom of some ants and, in particular, those who spray their venom rather than inject it. It burns, it stings, and it’s nasty.
Piperidine Alkaloids are a class of compounds which contribute to the chemicals found in fire ant venom. This chemical is the main instigator to the pain suffered from fire ant stings.
Wasp and Hornet Venom
Did you know hornets are actually a species of wasp? That’s why both these stinging insects contain similar chemical compounds.
Acetylcholine is a rather nasty chemical. Once it hits your body it drastically increases the stimulation of pain nerves. That’s why wasp and hornet stings are far more painful than that of a bee. Acetylcholine is particularly evident in high concentrations in hornet stings.
Wasp, Hornet, and Ant Venom
This is an enzyme quite similar to phospholipase A. It breaks up cell membranes and destroys cells. It is also used by wasps, hornets, and ants to help immobilise their prey.
Wasp, Hornet and Bee Venom
This vicious chemical causes constriction of blood vessels. What happens next is a reduction in blood flow and increasing blood pressure.
When it hits your body, serotonin acts as an irritant and contributes to the extensive pain you feel when stung by a wasp, bee and/or hornet.
Out of all the chemicals mentioned in this blog post, dopamine is possibly the least effective. This is because it is only present in small amounts and is often overpowered by the other chemicals present.
Wasp, Hornet, Bee, and Ant Venom
This chemical is the main instigator to the dreaded itch that follows an insect sting. It also contributes towards the harsh, sharp pain you experience. Your body also releases this chemical as an allergic response to an insect sting. This is why is why antihistamines are a good treatment for insect stings.
This chemical allows the venom from an ant, wasp, bee or hornet sting to be absorbed by your body. It splits carbohydrates from their bonds with proteins, breaks them down and allows the venom to be absorbed by your skin. Without this chemical, the others on this list would be useless.
This is a nasty enzyme. Once it’s in your body it can break up and destroy cells. It is also a strong allergen.
On top of these chemicals found in a wasp, and other stinging insects venom, alarm Pheromones are also released. This chemical is why you should never try and kill a wasp or hornet. These pheromones release a signal to other insects of the same species to come to the scene. This can potentially lead to multiple stings from multiple insects.
What Should I Do If I’ve been Stung?
If you have been stung by a wasp, bee, hornet and/or ant the best treatment is to cool the sting using an ice pack and take an antihistamine. This will help reduce the swelling and itch as well as relieve the pain. However, if you are allergic to insect stings the best form of treatment would be to visit your local GP to ensure the right medical actions are taken.
Data received from Chemical Components of Insect Venoms infographic created by Compound Interest. View infographic here.