Summer Pain: Stings and Bites

Those of you who have been paying attention to the Pestcotek blog will now be aware of the danger posed by the possibility of an anaphylactic reaction to insect venom in the stings of bees and especially wasps, which can sting multiple times. At Pestcotek, we believe it is well worth highlighting the level of pain that might be caused by the bites and stings of a variety of summer pests as we continue towards the end of August and the close of the summer. Contact with certain pests can be very painful; we would like to demonstrate why it is best to avoid them.


University of Arizona entomologist, Justin Schmidt, developed a pain index specifically for the gauging of pain levels caused by insect bites and stings. Schmidt rated the pain caused by 78 different species of insect on a scale of 0-4. Innocuous contact with an insect where the subject experiences no pain at all is rated at 0.  Level 4 is described by Schmidt in the following words: “You don’t want to know – the pain is so immediate and intense it shuts down all illusions of life as normal”. The Schmidt Pain Index also provides details on how long the pain lasts along with rather odd, subjective descriptions, which, quite frankly wouldn’t really bear empirical verification: not very scientific! They are, however, rather entertaining.

While Schmidt investigated the pain caused by 78 different species of insects, we will not be looking at all of them – just those relevant to the UK! For example, ants are a well-known UK summer pest. They are commonly seen foraging for sugary food products in our kitchen cupboards when we first identify them as pests. They are keen on finding crumbs underneath our washing machines, fridges, spin dryers and cupboards. Fortunately for those of us who dwell in these isles, our native species of ants are not rated very highly on Schmidt’s index. We are most likely to encounter the Garden Ant, the Rogers Ant, the Ghost Ant, the Pharaoh Ant and the Pavement Ant. The pain caused by these species is negligible, though they are nuisance and can spread disease.

To demonstrate how lucky we are to experience these somewhat harmless species of ant, we would ask you consider The Bullet Ant. It inhabits humid lowland rainforests from Nicaragua and the extreme east of Honduras and south to Paraguay. Schmidt gives it a pain scale rating of 4.0+. The duration of the pain is between 12 and 24 hours. Schmidt’s description of the pain is as follows:

“Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like fire-walking over flaming coals with a 3-inch rusty mail in your heel”.

Pollinators such as honeybees and bumblebees have seen a decline in recent years – this is well documented. You can encourage them by planting lavender, hebe’s and honeysuckle in your gardens. These are favoured by the bees. Bees are not naturally aggressive and they are vital to our ecosystem. Their tendency is to sting only as a last resort; many species die after stinging us. Many people look upon honeybees and bumblebees with great affection. This cannot be said of the wasp. Wasps can be more aggressive, and very aggressive is they perceive a threat to the nest from which they originally emerged. A female wasp can sting repeatedly if it perceives a threat. Here are Schmidt’s findings. You might well recognise the level of pain from past experience when reading Schmidt’s descriptions.

Honey bee
Pain scale: 2.0
Duration of pain: 4 – 10 minutes
Description: “Like a match-head that flips off and burns the skin”.

Paper wasp
Pain scale: 3.0
Duration of pain: 5 – 10 minutes
Description: “Caustic and burning. Distinctly bitter aftertaste. Like spilling a beaker of hydrochloric acid on a paper cut”.

Bald faced hornet
Pain scale: 2.0
Duration of pain: 3 – 4 minutes
Description: “Rich, hearty, slightly crunchy. Similar to getting your hand mashed in a revolving door”.