No Pain, No Scientific Gain: One Man's Quest To Quantify Bug Stings How much does a bee sting hurt, exactly? How about a bullet ant bite? An entomologist has built an index ranking insect stings — after getting stung more than 1,000 times.
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No Pain, No Scientific Gain: One Man's Quest To Quantify Bug Stings

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No Pain, No Scientific Gain: One Man's Quest To Quantify Bug Stings

No Pain, No Scientific Gain: One Man's Quest To Quantify Bug Stings

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  • Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Still feels like winter for many people, but spring today is officially here, which means flowers, gardens and bugs. One man could not be happier about the return of the insects, especially the ones that hurt.

JUSTIN SCHMIDT: Basically my interest throughout my whole career has been stinging insects and why they sting.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

That's University of Arizona entomologist Justin Schmidt. He travels the globe collecting ants, bees and wasps. Along the way, he's developed the Schmidt sting pain index - not surprised. It ranks pain on a scale of 1 to 4, 4 being the worst.

SCHMIDT: The sting pain scale was basically a scientific tool because I had no numbers for pain. You know, people just said oh, ouch that really hurt. Gee, that really agonized me. Those you can't put into a computer and compare them.

INSKEEP: Well, he can now because over three decades, he's added 78 different species to his index. He can rank them because he has been stung well over 1,000 times, including by the one he considers the most painful - the tropical bullet ant.

SCHMIDT: It hits you just like a branding iron or a bolt out of nowhere. And it catches your attention, there's no doubt about that. Whatever you're doing, you drop whatever's in your hand. And you're just, you know, agonizing there. And it doesn't go away.

MONTAGNE: Another level 4 bug is the tarantula hawk wasp. Its sting is as nasty as it sounds, and you can run into them in places like Utah and Kansas.

SCHMIDT: They're fairly widespread, spectacular, beautiful, just gorgeous animals. Fortunately, if you take the birdwatcher's approach and look at them from a distance with binoculars, you have nothing whatsoever to ever fear from them. It's just that you get a little closer and decide - oh, pretty wasp. Let's grab it. That's a big mistake.

INSKEEP: You don't say? Mr. Schmidt is looking for the pleasure of more pain. He has what he calls a Holy Grail list of insects he'd like to get up-close and personal with, among them, some long, skinny ants in Central Africa.

SCHMIDT: And they live inside trees, and they'll come out and they'll actually drop off the branches and start stinging and biting you.

MONTAGNE: Now, Justin Schmidt is - says he's no masochist. He just figures being stung is the price he must pay to know more about insects and how they use pain to survive. So if any of you are interested in signing up, it's all in the name of science.

INSKEEP: Ow.

MONTAGNE: (Laughter).

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