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.