The Schmidt Pain Index - The most painful insect stings

The Schmidt Pain Index

Kreethi Yadav

The Schmidt Pain Index - The most painful insect stingsWhilst researching online and through countless entomology books in order to brush up on my knowledge of stinging insects for the up and coming summer months, one topic kept on poking its head up time and time again. Like an entomology whack-a-mole, the Schmidt Pain Index was everywhere I looked.

With descriptions such as “Imagine W. C. Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.” 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. It is pretty much a big list documenting the pain felt after receiving a sting from an insect. Research for said list was carried out by Schmidt and his team by subjecting themselves to a variety of insects stings and bites.

The pain index puts rates each insect sting on a scale of 0-4. 0 being completely harmless, with no pain whatsoever and 4 being, well 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”

On top of a pain rating for each insect sting, the Schmidt Pain Index also provides information on the duration of pain and a description of what the insect sting feels like. I have to admit, the descriptions are my favourite part as some are quite hysterical, but getting stung by some of these insects is no laughing matter.

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

The Pain Index


Fire antsWe’ve all come across an ant at some point, but how many of you have been bitten or stung by one? Although the common garden ant doesn’t sting, there are some species that do. Each bringing their own unique level of pain to the table.

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.

Fun Fact: The Satere-Mawe tribe in Brazil use bullet ants as part of their warrior initiation. The young boy must wear a glove made from live bullet ants and endure 10 minutes of bullet ant stings.


honey beeAlthough bees are very beneficial to the environment, it’s their sting that makes them a pest. If you’ve been stung by a bee you might be able to relate to Schmidt’s accurate descriptions.

Sweet 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 matchhead that flips off and burns your skin.

Did You Know bees die after stinging? This is because, unlike wasps, their stingers are barbed which causes it to get stuck in your skin. As the bee tries to pull away she rips her stinger from her body which causes an untimely death.

Wasps and Hornets

Wasps and Hornets are a lot more aggressive than bee’s, it often takes little to no provocation for them to sting you. Anyone who has ever come across one of this stinging insects knows how painful their stings can be.

Fun Fact: Hornets are actually a species of wasp!

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.

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.

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.

Currently, the list documents the stings of 78 species of stinging insects. However, Schmidt is currently working on the latest version of the pain index, which will include a larger database of stings from more species.

Insect Stings

You’ve probably discovered that getting stung by one of the stinging insects listed on the Schmidt Pain Index can be extremely painful, especially if you’ve become victim to a bullet ant.

If you feel you have a pest problem in your home and/or business which may result in you, your family, or your employees getting stung then taking the time to contact a professional can save you from being another victim of the stinging insects on the Schmidt Pain Index.


Kreethi Yadav
Kreethi Yadav

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