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How to Use the Schmidt Pain Index? (Identify the Most Painful Insect Stings)

Here at Pest Strategies, we’ve been out in the field as pest control technicians, killing bugs for people in their homes, offices, and gardens. Along the way, we’ve all been bitten or stung during the course of our duties.

Some bites or stings are worse than others. Many people shiver and run away from bees, wasps, yellow jackets, fire ants, and such because they’re afraid of the pain associated with being bitten or stung.

How to Use the Schmidt Pain Index?

But, did you know there is actually a chart, a pain index that can tell you how bad one bite or sting is in relative to another? There is. It’s called the Schmidt Sting Pain Index and it can take some of the mystery (and fear) out of insect bites and stings.

Click here to jump to a chart describing the 4 primary levels of the Schmidt Pain Index!

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What is the Schmidt Sting Pain Index or Scale?

Justin O. Schmidt, who earned his Ph.D. in Entomology in 1977 from the University of Georgia, allowed himself to be bitten and stung by more than 80 different types of insects during his study of what is called eusociality, the high-level of societal organization of different groups of animals and insects.

40 years later he’s become known as “The Connoisseur of Pain”, “The King of Sting”, and “The Man Who Got Stung for Science.” They’re not titles most people would want. In May of 2016, Schmidt published his findings in a book, “The Sting of the Wild.”

Now an entomologist at the University of Arizona, he put a scale in the book for the different levels of pain he encountered from different insects. Hymenoptera, the membrane-winged insects, including bees, ants, and different species of wasps were among those listed in his pain scale.

The pain level runs from a 0, which Schmidt said was completely ineffective against human skin, to a 4 which Schmidt compared to walking on hot coals with a 3-inch rusty nail in your heel. His descriptions are as colorful as his subject.

While the chart on the severity of insect stings is admittedly subjective, all of the ratings were done by Schmidt alone, who took copious notes of his physical reactions at the time. He was able to rate the sting of each of the stinging insects against each other in his own experience.

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The Schmidt Pain Index

Schmidt Pain Index Table - Identify Your Sting

How to Use the Schmidt Pain Index?

The Schmidt Pain Index provides a guide for judging the dangers presented by different insects. For example, he rated the sweat bee, the Southern fire ant, Western paper wasp, and most bees in the 1-1.9 range.

A 1.0, the sweat bee, he described their sting as “light, almost fruity.” He rated the fire ant at 1.2, describing the bite from a single ant as a sudden sharp pain and compared it to walking across a shag carpet and building up some static on you, then touching a light switch, creating a tiny spark.

At least it’s better than a three-inch nail in your heel.

The bald-faced hornet he rated at 2.0 and compared it to getting your hand caught in a revolving door. He said it was, in his words, “rich, hearty, slightly crunchy.” He rated the yellow jacket at 2.0 but said it was like having W.C. Fields extinguish a cigar on your tongue.

The red harvester ant, which is native to New Mexico and Arizona, was rated a 3.0 on his scale. He said its painful sting could inflame the nerves for hours instead of minutes, was like someone using a drill to excavate an ingrown toenail.

That description ought to send some shivers down your spine!

Moving along to the paper wasp, he said their stinger delivers a pain that is caustic as well as burning. He claimed it left a bitter aftertaste and compared it to spilling a beaker of hydrochloric acid on a paper cut. He rated it a 3.0.

At 4.0 is the bullet ant from Central and South America. This is the one he was like having a 3-inch nail in your foot while walking on burning coals. He said the brilliant pain lasted 12 hours – or more, and left him weak and trembling.

According to Schmidt, it was the most excruciating pain of them all. He said it was an electrical type of pain, similar to dropping a running hair dryer into your bubble bath.

These are just some of the more colorful descriptions he used on a few of the many insects that stung him over the years. Although he’s an entomologist, Justin Schmidt has a rather salty tone when he’s describing the effects of being stung by different insects.

Take a look at the video below for more insight into the Schmidt Pain Index.

What is the Schmidt Pain Index Helpful For?

The Schmidt pain index is very helpful for pest control technicians. Having been stung a few times during the course of our duties, it would have been helpful ahead of time to know how bad it would hurt if we were stung by the insects we were dealing with.

Instead of spraying a yellow jacket nest in a short-sleeve shirt, we’d have taken the precaution of wearing a bee suit even though they’re extremely hot and sweaty. The same logic applies to anyone who has a stinging insect problem to deal with.

If you have a honeybee nest around your house you can check the Schmidt index to find out how much pain you’re exposing yourself to as compared to a velvet ant nest or a warrior wasp nest, and take appropriate action to distance yourself from it or attack it during a cooler part of the day.

The best way to use the Schmidt index is to identify the insect you’re dealing with. Once you’re sure you’ve identified it correctly, go to the Schmidt chart and find it on there. If the rating is greater than 2.0 (the halfway point), we’d recommend caution.

Bee suits are hot and uncomfortable (take our word for it) but they’re better than being stung by wasps or yellow jackets.

Many insects are also sluggish early in the morning while it is still cool. If you can’t afford a bee suit, spray the nest just before the sun comes up. The cool temperatures will slow them down and keep you from receiving a painful sting.

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What are the Most Painful Insect Stings According to the Schmidt Pain Index?

The most painful insect stings are 4.0, starting with the aforementioned bullet ant. Its venom contains poneratoxin, a neurotoxin paralyzing agent. Schmidt also gave the tarantula hawk a rating of 4.0, describing it as blinding and fierce.

Tarantula hawks in Texas are so big they attack and kill tarantula spiders, bury them in the ground then lay their eggs inside them. The larvae hatch and feed on the tarantula as they grow. Luckily, they seldom sting people unless they’re provoked. But if they are, watch out!

He also rated the two-and-a-half inch long warrior wasp at 4.0, describing it as torture. He said to imagine being chained in the flow of an active volcano. Luckily, they’re only found on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

The Schmidt index was briefly mentioned the 2015 film, Ant-Man, when the heroes were planning to break into Pym Technologies and discussed using bullet ants to distract the lab personnel because their bites are so painful.

Schmidt gave the Tarantula Hawk a Level 4 Rating

Common Mistakes When Using the Schmidt Pain Scale

The single most common mistake when using the Schmidt index if a failure to understand that it only refers to the bite or sting of a single insect. In other words, one a time. But insects rarely attack one at a time.

Anyone who has ever had the misfortune to disturb a fire ant mound knows they pour out of the mound by the hundreds. Being bitten by one is only a 1.2 on the Schmidt index, but being bitten by dozens or hundreds of them can potentially be life-threatening.

Yellow jackets, bees, and wasps react the same way. Disturbing the nest brings dozens of them swarming around you. Once they’ve identified you as a threat they’re apt to chase you the length of an entire football field.

What A Pain!

The Schmidt Sting Pain Index is a useful tool when used appropriately. It can help you evaluate the risks when you’re approaching an insect nest. If nothing else, Schmidt’s book, The Sting of the Wild, makes for entertaining, if spine-tingling, reading.

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