Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Schmidt Pain Index

[reprinted from The Futility Closet]

After he'd been stung by almost everything, entomologist Justin O. Schmidt created the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, a four-point scale comparing the overall pain of insect stings:

* 1.0 - Sweat bee: "Light, ephemeral, almost fruity. A tiny spark has singed a single hair on your arm."
* 1.2 - Fire ant: "Sharp, sudden, mildly alarming. Like walking across a shag carpet and reaching for the light switch."
* 1.8 - Bullhorn acacia ant: "A rare, piercing, elevated sort of pain. Someone has fired a staple into your cheek."
* 2.0 - Bald-faced hornet: "Rich, hearty, slightly crunchy. Similar to getting your hand mashed in a revolving door."
* 2.0 - Yellowjacket: "Hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine W.C. Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue."
* 3.0 - Red harvester ant: "Bold and unrelenting. Somebody is using a drill to excavate your ingrown toenail."
* 3.0 - Paper wasp: "Caustic and burning. Distinctly bitter aftertaste. Like spilling a beaker of hydrochloric acid on a paper cut."
* 4.0 - Pepsis wasp: "Blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair drier has been dropped into your bubble bath (if you get stung by one you might as well lie down and scream)."
* 4.0+ - Bullet ant: "Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch nail in your heel."

His descriptions crack me up. Note -- he rates stings only from the (very stingy) Hymenoptera order of insects -- bees, wasps, ants.

After running into that post, I had to know more about this guy and his obsession with poisonous insects.

Here is a great Discover Magazine article about him and his work. And a teaser quote:

One morning not long ago, an American entomologist named Justin Schmidt was making his way up the winding road to the Monteverde cloud forest in Costa Rica when he spotted Parachartergus fraternus, social wasps known both for the sculptured architecture of their hives and the ferocity with which they defend them. This hive was 10 feet up a tree, and the tree angled out from an eroded bank over a gorge. Schmidt, who specializes in the study of stinging insects, got out a plastic garbage bag and shinnied up to bag the hive.
"There's always a few that get out," he says, so he took the precaution of putting on his beekeeper's veil. Undeterred, the angry wasps charged his face, scootched their hind ends underneath their bodies in midair, and, from a range of four inches, squirted venom through the veil straight into his eyes. "There I was, 10 feet up a tree, holding a bag of live wasps in one hand, basically blinded with pain."

Enjoy not being this guy,


[first image courtesy of wikimedia commons, 2nd image credit in linked article]


cascades said...

[cranky bastard warning]


LOL, venom in the eyes!

So he's walking up the road, sees some wasps, and decides to abduct/presumably kill some with a plastic bag - yes, he's a "scientist" and all, but what gives him the right?

Are we going to study (oops, sorry about the collateral damage) and "save" the wasps?

seem to have lost my sense of humor...

Bpaul said...

Yeah, that scene struck me as pretty damned archaic. Don't they make digital cameras these days?

Reminded me of the attitude of the British Naturalist of two centuries ago. "Hey, something new and amazing, kill it, quick!"