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Don’t mess with the Bullet Ant

It’s less than an inch long, but the notorious bullet ant has a big reputation in the insect world for inflicting the most intensely excruciating pain. Internationally known entomologist Dr. Justin Schmidt knows firsthand: he’s experienced it, along with the stings of more than 150 bugs from around the world – all for the good of research.

Dr. Schmidt, who has lived in Tucson for many years, categorized the stings he’s intentionally received from 1 to 4, with 4 being the worst, reserved for a very few critters like the bullet ant. Based on his reactions, he created the Schmidt Sting Pain Index almost 40 years ago. His scale ranks the pain caused by stinging insects in the Hymenopteran order, a large group that includes ants, bees, wasps, and sawflies.  It is the go-to resource for entomologists, biologists, scientists, and physicians when they come across cases of severe pain from stings from these insects.

Schmidt, director of the Southwestern Biological Institute and formerly an entomologist with the Carl Hayden Bee Research Center in Tucson, pulls out all the stops with his precise and imaginative descriptions for each insect’s sting. Let’s take a look at how a few bugs stack up on the Schmidt Sting Pain Index:

Pain Level 1

Most small bees, along with the Western paper wasp and the Southern fire ant, cause the lowest level of pain when they sting. These stings typically hurt for five minutes or less. Schmidt says the sting of a tiny sweat bee is like “a tiny spark has singed a single hair on your arm.”

Pain Level 2

Most insects in the Hymenopteran order fit into this category. This includes the bald-faced hornet, yellow jacket, Asiatic honey bee, and the trap-jaw ant. These stings can be most intense for five to ten minutes. He characterizes the sting of the termite-raiding ant as “the debilitating pain of a migraine contained in the tip of your finger.”

Pain Level 3

The agony moves up with this group, which includes many types of wasps and a few ants. The intensity of these stings, such as the red paper wasp’s sting, can last from one minute to a half hour. One ant in this category is the toxic Maricopa harvester ant, one of the most common species of harvester ant in Arizona and throughout the Southwest. Schmidt reports the Maricopa harvester ant’s sting feels like “after eight unrelenting hours of drilling into that ingrown toenail, you find the drill wedged into the toe.”

Pain Level 4

This is the stuff nightmares are made of – the stunningly painful stings of the worst of the worst members of the Hymenopteran order of the insect world. Fortunately, there are not many bugs with the power of the bullet ant or the tarantula hawk wasp, which are both ranked at 4. Schmidt says that the sting feels “like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a three-inch rusty nail in your heel.” The intense pain can last for 12 hours.

Even more, fortunately, you’d have to go to the forests of South America to find these insect monsters. We may have our scorpions and bad guy spiders, but you won’t find the bullet ant in Arizona.

If you have been stung by wasps, hornets, aggressive bees, or fire ants around your home, you don’t have to be afraid of going outside again. Call us and we can help prevent these tiny critters from terrorizing your family. Our professionals are trained to distinguish the “good bees” from the “bad bees” and they know what to do to help protect your home.