Ouch! An Interview with Entomology’s King of Sting

Jennifer Hackett in Scientific American:

BeeFor most people a single bee or wasp sting is one too many. But University of Arizona entomologist Justin Schmidt is a dramatic exception: By his own estimation he has been stung more than 1,000 times by at least 80 kinds of insects as part of his job. After unintentionally collecting a few different types of stings while conducting fieldwork to investigate the social behavior of stinging insects, Schmidt decided to take a cue from medical science and create a sting pain index that ranked each sting on a scale of 1 to 4 with eloquent, almost poetic descriptions of the pain (or lack thereof) they caused. The scale, Schmidt hoped, would help reveal how the ability to sting—and the type of sting delivered—serve different insects and enable their respective social structures.

In his new book The Sting of the Wild, which came out this week and was published by Johns Hopkins University Press, Schmidt explains the roles of stings in insect society in great detail. He devotes chapters to how different insects inflict their respective flavors of pain, covering creatures from fire ants to tarantula hawk wasps to honeybees. For the first time, Schmidt’s full sting pain index and his thoughts on each experience—including such comments as “like coffee, but oh so bitter” for a low-level sting or “like spilling a beaker of hydrochloric acid on a paper cut” for a higher one—is published at the end of the book. Even though the pain-laced topic might leave you wincing, Schmidt’s engaging and entertaining writing makes for a tale worth reading.

More here.