It started when a honeybee flew up Michael Smith’s shorts and stung him in the testicles.
Smith is a graduate student at Cornell University, who studies the behaviour and evolution of honeybees. In this line of work, stings are a common and inevitable hazard. “If you’re wearing shorts and doing bee work, a bee can get up there easily,” he says. “But I was really surprised that it didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would.”
Everyone who works with stinging insects has their own answers, but Smith couldn’t find any hard data. Even Justin Schmidt was no help. Schmidt is the famous creator of the Schmidt Sting Pain Index—a scale that measures the painfulness of insect stings using wonderful synaesthetic descriptions that almost read like wine-tasting notes. Wine-tasting notes of agony.
According to Schmidt’s index, the sweat bee sting (1 on a scale of 0 to 4) feels like “a tiny spark has singed a single hair on your arm”. The yellowjacket sting (2) is “hot and smoky, almost irreverent; imagine W. C. Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.” And the daddy of stinging insects—the bullet ant (4+)—produces “pure, intense, brilliant pain, like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail grinding into your heel.”