Most of us already know that getting stung by an insect is less than a pleasant experience. But how much do you really know about insect bites and stings, and have you ever heard of the insect sting pain index?
In this article, we’re laying out the basic facts behind several common insect stings and providing detailed rankings of the most painful ones, according to the insect sting pain index.
Let’s get started!
The Insect Sting Pain Index – How Do Experts Measure Pain?
The insect sting pain index measures the pain level of insect stings.
Believe it or not, there is a quantifiable scale to measure the pain of being stung or bitten by an insect, and it is called the Insect Sting Pain Index.
There are a few different studies that rate insect stings based on the insect sting pain index, but the Schmidt Insect Sting Pain Index is considered the world’s most comprehensive guide to insect stings, cataloging them according to their relative pain in human beings.
Insect sting and bite impacts are considered to be one of the most painful sensations in nature, according to Dr. Justin Schmidt, who has done extensive research on these painful events.
Schmidt conducted an experiment that produced an insect sting pain index where the results earned a place in history. The Schmidt Insect Sting Pain Index ranks the power of a sting from zero to four by the reaction of a victim.
Schmidt Insect Sting Pain Index – Four Levels Of Pain
The Schmidt insect sting pain index is a five-level classification of painfulness that attempts to make comparisons between different types of pain.
- Level One, minor pain, is described as perception of pain without sensory or emotional component.
- Level Two is described as a dull ache that does not impede activity.
- Level Three is described as sharp and pricking pain, with some sensory component but minimal disturbance in movement.
- Level Four is excruciating and agonizing, with maximal obstruction of physical activity.
Insects That Sting – What You Should Know
Insects sting for a number of reasons, but primarily to paralyze their prey or protect themselves or their nests.
There are plenty of myths out there about insect stings. Some people say that fire ant stings can “leave you paralyzed or blinded.” Others warn against the dangers of insect stings leading to deadly allergic reactions. A sting from a yellow jacket is just as dangerous as that from a wasp… right?
Not necessarily, according to experts.
While some insect stings can be dangerous and many can cause allergic reactions to those with sensitivities, for the most part, insect stings are a painful nuisance and nothing more. This is good to know, considering there are stinging insects in every part of the world.
Insects that sting are often divided into groups: bees, wasps, and ants; and scorpions, social wasps and solitary wasps. Some use their mouths to deliver the sting while others use their rear ends. Both groups can be deadly if you are sensitive, though death is rare in most cases.
Are you curious about which insects are most dangerous when it comes to the insect sting pain index? Keep reading to find which insect sting is the most painful!
A Countdown Of The Insect Sting Pain Index, According To Experts
The Schmidt insect sting pain index has long been used to measure pain.
Most of us have suffered the pain of a bee or wasp sting at some point in our lives, but what about other insects? Fire ants, giant hornets, and bees are some of the most common deadly insect-born stings.
However, there are thousands of different species of stinging insects out there and they all have different abilities to not only sting but deliver venom with their stings that can be deadly or simply cause swelling or localized pain.
The Schmidt sting pain index is a ranking of the relative painfulness of stings inflicted on human beings by species of hymenoptera insects.
It was developed between 1982 and 1984 by Justin O. Schmidt, a behavioral ecologist of the entomology department of the National Museum of Natural History, who at that time worked in the field of vector biology with special interest in Hymenoptera venoms and their biological significance.
Based on this insect sting pain index created by Schmidt, we have listed the top 10 most painful insect stings in the world.
Here is our countdown of the insect sting pain index from least painful to most painful:
10.The Sweat Bee
9.The Eastern Yellow Jacket
- The Bald-Faced Hornet
7.The Giant Bornean Carpenter Bee
- The Trap-Jaw Ant
- The Paper Wasp
4.The Red Harvester Ant
3.The Tarantula Hawk Wasp
2.The Warrior Wasp
- The Bullet Ant
10.The Common Honey Bee
The honeybee does sting, and his sting is measured at a level 2.
Pain Index Level – 2
Most people have heard of the honeybee, and by now most of us know how important these bees are to our ecosystem. Honeybees are incredibly beneficial pollinators.
Yes, honeybees do sting, but luckily their sting is relatively mild, according to the insect sting pain index.
The sting of the honeybee is rated at a number 2 on the insect sting pain index, which is one step up from the sweat bee, but still considered a mild sting. The honey bee’s sting has a sharp pain that lasts for up to five minutes while the venom begins to work its way into your system.
Although the venom of a honeybee is not as strong as that of a wasp, hornet or fire ant, it can be fatal if you are allergic to it. A honeybee sting can cause anaphylactic shock, which is a severe and life-threatening reaction to venom.
Within minutes of being stung by a honeybee, you may experience symptoms such as hives, swelling around your mouth, throat or tongue and difficulty breathing. If left untreated, anaphylactic shock can cause death within 30 minutes to an hour.
Thankfully, this kind of reaction to a honeybee sting is rare.
For the most part, people simply experience mild pain associated with the sting of a honey bee that causes a sharp burning sensation at the site of injection immediately followed by swelling that varies from slight to extensive depending on the individual.
Pain is usually localized and accompanied by variable amounts of swelling that may become more pronounced for up to 48 h after the sting. The swelling may last up to 5 days, and sometimes a small white mark may remain at the sting site for several days.
9.The Eastern Yellow Jacket
The Eastern Yellow Jacket is another type of sting known for causing a level 2 on the pain index.
Pain Index Level – 2
The sting of the Eastern Yellow Jacket, Vespula maculifrons, is considered to be one of the most painful insect stings in North America. A study on the relative pain caused by Hymenoptera stings, which included yellowjacket and paper wasp species, reported that their venom contains a mixture of several proteins, including acid phosphatase, hyaluronidase (a protein that can break down tissues), and proteases.
The Hymenoptera family comprises many insects which have the ability to sting, including bees and wasps. The eastern yellow jacket’s sting has a pain index rating of 2.0 (painful) according to Justin Schmidt’s Hymenopteran Insect Sting Pain Index.
Although they are not as aggressive as some other wasps, yellow jackets are known to sting when they feel threatened. Eastern Yellow Jackets build nests in the ground, so it is easy to accidentally step on or near a nest and get stung multiple times.
Unfortunately for those who are allergic, the sting of an Eastern Yellow Jacket is very painful and can cause serious medical emergencies.
8. The Bald-Faced Hornet
The bald-faced hornet is named for his white face.
Pain Index Level – 2
The bald-faced hornet (Dolichovespula maculata) gets its name from the white markings on its face. These are not true hornets, however. True hornets belong to the genus Vespa and are not native to North America.
Bald-faced hornets are predatory wasps that build large, exposed, papery nests hanging from tree limbs or other structures, such as porch roofs or rafters. The nest is composed of many hexagonal paper cells in a single layer of combs. Because bald-faced hornets are most active during the day and their nests are exposed, they are considered to be one of the most aggressive stinging insects.
Bald-faced hornet venom is a protein mixture containing chemicals such as biogenic amines and melittin – which can cause pain and swelling at the sting site. The pain is quick to develop but usually less intense than that of a honey bee sting. A single sting produces little swelling; repeated stings can produce extensive swelling at the sting site lasting up to 72 hours.
Bald-faced hornets are large and aggressive yellow jacket wasps. They use their stingers to paralyze their prey and to defend themselves and their nests.
If stung by a bald-faced hornet, you may experience pain, swelling, redness, and itching at the site of the sting. The reaction can be mild or somewhat severe. If you are allergic to the venom in their stings, you may experience nausea, vomiting, difficulty breathing, and other severe reactions that may require emergency medical care.
Bites or stings from bald-faced hornets usually aren’t deadly unless you’re allergic to them. Of course, it’s best to stay away from these creatures than to risk getting stung by one just in case. If you are allergic to their venom, seek emergency medical care immediately after being bitten or stung by one of these hornets.
7.The Giant Bornean Carpenter Bee
The carpenter bee is a giant bee that packs a big sting.
Pain Index Level – 2
How painful would you imagine the sting of the Giant Bornean Carpenter Bee to be? Would it be pretty painful? Would it be very painful? Would it be excruciatingly painful?
We’re here to tell you that the pain from a sting from the Giant Bornean Carpenter Bee is rated at 2.0 on the Schmidt pain index — which means, by our calculations, that it’s one of the most painful stings in nature.
And if you think about it, this makes sense because these bees are giant … and they’re carpenters … and they’ve got some powerful mandibles.
As with many other stings on the Schmidt pain index, the Giant Bornean Carpenter Bee sting has been compared to being burned by a hot iron. So if you’re stung, expect intense burning and throbbing sensations that are likely to last for ten minutes or more.
The Giant Bornean Carpenter Bee sting is not only painful, but it could even be fatal to humans who are allergic. The good news is that fatalities are very rare. As with many species of stinging insects, both male and female bees in this genus have a stinger. However, only females are able to use their stinger for defense. Furthermore, males do not have venom and cannot sting.
6. The Trap-Jaw Ant
The trap jaw ant has strong mandibles that can cause some serious pain.
Pain Index Level – 2.5
The Trap-Jaw Ant sting is rated as a 2.5 out of 4 on the Schmidt sting pain index, meaning it is moderately painful.
The Trap-Jaw Ant sting has been described as having an extremely quick onset of sharp pain that peaks within six to 12 seconds, and then subsides.
According to the entomologist who compiled the Schmidt Insect Sting Pain Index, Justin O. Schmidt, who was stung by The Trap-Jaw Ant, “It felt like fire. It felt like getting your hand mashed in a revolving door.”
The Trap-Jaw Ant sting is no doubt among the most painful insect stings in the world. This genus of ants has been known to possess a pair of highly powerful and strong mandibles. These mandibles have the power to snap shut with immense force at a lightning speed of around 60 times per second.
Though not the most painful sting on the insect sting pain index, the Trap Jaw Ant Sting has been described as being similar to walking through fire or being branded by hot iron. It has also been reported that it can take up to 24 hours for the pain to subside and some victims have even experienced a burning sensation for up to three days after being stung by this ant species!
5. The Paper Wasp
The paper wasp is named such for making paper-like nests in eaves.
Pain Index Level – 3
What is the insect sting pain index level for a paper wasp? According to Schmidt, the pain level for this sting is at a level 3.
The paper wasp is a thin-bodied insect with narrow wings, long legs and orange antennae. There are several different species of paper wasps and they are easily identified by their distinctive “nests,” built out of a papery material and suspended from a branch or other object by a single stalk.
Paper wasps can be found throughout the world, but in the United States, they are common in the Southwest. These insects are not as aggressive as yellow jackets or hornets, but they will defend their nests if threatened.
The sting of the paper wasp is no picnic. Their stings have been described as feeling like a “pinprick” followed by intense burning and swelling. The pain is localized and usually lasts less than an hour, though it can last longer.
What do victims of a paper wasp sting say?
Most people claim to experience immediate pain at the site of the sting that can last from a few minutes to 48 hours. Some people also develop hives and other skin reactions, along with nausea, vomiting or dizziness.
In most cases, these symptoms aren’t life threatening, but for people who are sensitive or allergic to bee or wasp stings, the paper wasp sting can be deadly.
4.The Red Harvester Ant
Red ants are already known for biting, but the harvester ant has an especially nasty bite.
Pain Index Level – 3
The Red Harvester Ant sting is rated at a level 3 in accordance with the Schmidt Insect Sting Pain Index.
The Red Harvester Ant is prevalent throughout the southern United States and prefers sandy soil, making it commonly found in Texas, although they can also be found further north in parts of California as well.
These insects are very aggressive and are known for their large colonies that can have up to 250,000 members. The ants have three different castes – workers, males and queens. The workers are reddish-brown and about 7-10 mm in body length. The queen has a dark brown color with a slightly larger size than others.
Red Harvester Ants can be found anywhere where there is enough heat or sunlight to keep them warm during their active periods when they search for food
The sting of the red harvester ant (Pogonomyrmex barbatus) is described as “excruciating.” The insect sting pain index itself describes the sensation as being comparable to cleaning a part of your body with a Brillo pad, and it may stay that way for up to five hours.
3.The Warrior Wasp
The Warrior Wasp has a level 4 sting.
Pain Index Level – 4
The Warrior Wasp sting level is 4 on the pain index, putting it slightly lower than some of the most painful stings in the world, according to the insect sting pain index. This sting is extremely painful and can last for up to 24 hours.
Stings from the Warrior Wasp species are typically not fatal, but they may cause severe reactions in those who are allergic to the venom.
The warrior wasp uses its stinger to paralyze prey and protect itself and its nest. When feeding on prey like cockroaches, the wasp may also use its stinger to drill into a roach’s brain, immobilizing it while keeping it alive. The wasp then takes the cockroach back to its nest, where it lays eggs inside of the prey so that the wasp’s larvae can feed on it once they hatch.
Despite its name, the warrior wasp is actually a type of hornet and not a true wasp. The scientific name of this wasp is Deuteragenia ossarium, which literally translates as “second birth chamber.” It is a very large insect with a wingspan of up to 2 inches (50 mm). The sting of the warrior wasp is said to be one of the most painful stings in the world.
Professor Schmidt said himself that his own experience with the warrior wasp sting left him incapacitated for six hours: “I had to lie down until the worst had passed.” However, he did add that “the pain increases in waves for about 20 minutes.”
2.The Tarantula Hawk Wasp
The Tarantula Hawk Wasp has an incredibly painful sting!
Pain Index Level – 4
Just how painful is the sting of a tarantula hawk wasp? In accordance with the insect sting pain index, it belongs on the maximum level. (This means that it is on par with the sting of a bullet ant, which is considered the most painful sting in the world.)
The severity of the pain is not due to any sort of venom or toxin, but rather a small amount of formic acid that is injected into the victim. The pain of the tarantula hawk wasp has been described as “blinding, fierce, and shockingly electric.” The pain has even been compared to burning-hot pokers being used to stab one’s flesh.
You can not help but be amazed by the Tarantula Hawk Wasp when you see it. The females have a stinger that is about one centimeter long.
The Tarantula Hawk Wasp also has a wingspan of two inches. These wasps are common all over Southern California. There are two different species of them in California, including the Blue-tailed Tarantula Hawk Wasp and Pink-tailed Tarantula Hawk Wasp.
The tarantula hawk wasp uses its sting to paralyze its prey before dragging them back to their burrow as living food for their young. The sting is so painful because it contains a neurotoxin that hits sodium channels in your body, causing excruciating pain to anyone who is stung by these insects.
1. The Bullet Ant
The bullet ant is considered to have the most painful sting.
Pain Index Level – 4
The bullet ant has earned its place as the most painful sting of any insect on earth. Since it’s a wasp, it’s not technically an ant at all, but the pain caused by its sting is so powerful that the name “bullet” is very fitting.
The effects of a bullet ant’s sting are extremely painful and long-lasting, with the victim writhing in agony for up to 24 hours. This powerful pain is caused by a neurotoxin injected by the wasp’s stinger.
If you’re feeling brave, however, you can try to become a man by enduring a dozen bullet ant stings at once.
The Satere-Mawe tribe from Brazil have their own coming-of-age ritual for young men called “the gloves of bravery.” The boys’ hands are bound inside gloves that have hundreds of bullet ants stitched into them. They must keep their hands in the gloves for 10 minutes without showing any sign of pain — although screaming is allowed!
Best Products To Soothe Insect Stings
Calamine lotion is one of the most popular products you can use to soothe insect stings.
If you’re one of the many people who suffers from the occasional insect bite or sting, you know how painful and irritating it can be. The good news is that there are a number of products available to help soothe the affected area and reduce pain.
The following are some of the best products for treating insect bites and stings:
Calamine Lotion — Calamine lotion is one of the most popular treatment options, as it provides a number of benefits. It’s available in both liquid and lotion form, making it easy to apply to any area of your body. The pink color allows you to see exactly where you’ve applied it. It dries quickly and stays on your skin for hours, providing long lasting relief from itchy bites. It also has antiseptic properties that aid in healing cuts or scrapes (which sometimes result from too much scratching).
Benadryl — Benadryl is an antihistamine that treats itching by blocking histamine receptors and preventing them from binding with histamine. This relieves itching without causing drowsiness, although some people do experience drowsiness as a side effect. Benadryl comes in several different forms such as tablets, liquids, and quick-dissolving tablets.
Solimo Medicated Calamine Lotion
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Solimo Medicated Calamine Anti-Itch Lotion above includes six ounces of medicated lotion specifically made for insect bites and stings. It not only helps reduce the itch of stings and bites but can soothe painful sunburns.
Apply this lotion to the sting area as needed. However, you should not use this product if you are allergic to Zinc Oxide or any of the other ingredients listed on the Solimo Medicated Calamine Lotion bottle.
Benadryl Antihistamine Allergy Tablets
Benadryl is one of the most popular allergy relief drugs on the market for anything from pollen allergies to bug stings. It has active ingredients of diphenhydramine hydrochloride and comes in a variety of forms, including capsules, gels, tablets, and liquids.
The maximum strength formula of Benadryl above is ideal for allergy sufferers looking to relieve their symptoms quickly without making multiple trips to the pharmacy. The product helps relieve indoor and outdoor allergies from bites or stings by stopping the histamine reaction before it starts and provides fast acting
We also like that this product provides relief from allergy symptoms such as itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, runny nose and sinus congestion. It also helps relieve other symptoms such as hay fever, upper respiratory allergies and the common cold.
How To Avoid Insect Stings – Best Tips and Practices
Wearing full coverage clothing and wearing darker clothing can help keep you safe from insect bites.
Insect stings are certainly no fun. So what are your best options for avoiding them in the first place?
The best way to avoid insect stings is to steer clear of insect nesting and breeding areas, like tall grasses or piles of wood. If you have a long outdoor adventure like a hike planned, try to wear dark-colored clothing, as some stinging insects are attracted to bright colors. You should also spray your clothes with an insect repellent that contains DEET, permethrin or picaridin.
These types of repellents can be applied directly to the skin as well, though it’s important to use insect sprays only as directed. You should also avoid wearing scented lotions or perfumes that might attract stinging insects. Wear long pants and shirts, and wear enclosed shoes and socks when possible.
If you have children, work to cover baby carriages with mosquito netting on hikes through the woods or wilderness areas.
While we don’t have a cure-all to recommend, the above listed products are some of the best products to help with relieving the pain of insect stings. Remember, while insect stings are not always dangerous, they can be deadly to those with severe reactions.
If you or someone you are with is experiencing symptoms of anaphylactic shock due to an insect bite or sting, it’s important to get them emergency medical attention immediately.
So, what did you think of the insect sting pain index and the ten insects listed above? Did you realize the bullet ant had the most painful sting?
Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.
Jack founded our blog after two decades of working in the pest control industry. His vast experience dealing with a wide array of pests allows him to diagnose issues quickly and get to the heart of pest problems quickly and effectively. He has serviced more than 2,000 homes over his career and there is hardly any pest situation that he has not seen before.