He’s let thousands of insects bite and sting him—here’s what he’s learned

Justin Schmidt feels the burn so you don’t have to.

You probably don’t savor the agony of a well-stubbed toe, but pain is a boon. Stings teach us to avoid similar dust-ups in the future, but entomologist Justin Schmidt refuses to heed the warnings. He’s been poked at least 1,000 times in the name of the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, a scale that objectifies the intensity of our boo-boos, so he’s got a somme­lier’s palate for pain. Here’s a taste of some of his most delectable entries.

Pain Level 1

Sweat Bees: “Light and ephemeral, almost fruity. A tiny spark has singed a single hair on your arm.”

Little Wasp: “Sharp meets spice. A slender cactus spine brushed a buffalo wing before it poked your arm.”

Indian Jumping Ant: “Ah, that wonderful wake-up feeling, like coffee but oh so bitter.”

Pain Level 2

Western Honey Bee: “A flaming match head lands on your arm and is quenched first with lye and then sulfuric acid.”

Yellow Jacket: “Hot and smoky, ­almost irreverent. Imagine W.C. Fields ­extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.”

Honey Wasp: Spicy, ­blistering. A cotton swab dipped in ­habanero sauce has been pushed up your nose.”

Pain Level 3

Red-headed Paper Wasp: “Immediate, irrationally intense, and ­unrelenting…the closest you will come to seeing the blue of a flame from within the fire.”

Red Paper Wasp: “Caustic and burning, with a distinctly bitter aftertaste. Like spilling a beaker of hydrochloric acid on a paper cut.”

Florida Harvester Ant: “Bold and unrelenting. Somebody is using a power drill to excavate your ingrown toenail.”

Pain Level 4

Tarantula Hawk: “Blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair dryer has just been dropped into your bubble bath.”

Bullet Ant: “Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like walking over flaming charcoal with a [3-inch-nail] embedded in your heel.”

Warrior Wasp: Torture. You are chained in the flow of an active volcano. Why did I start this list?”

This article was originally published in the Winter 2018 Danger issue of Popular Science.

Rachel Feltman
Rachel Feltman

is the Executive Editor of Popular Science and the host of the podcast The Weirdest Thing I Learned This Week. She's an alum of Simon's Rock and NYU's Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting program. Rachel previously worked at Quartz and The Washington Post. Contact the author here.