Ant bites, insect stings – the signs of summer

ants-eatingThe  familiar Ouch! from a wasp sting or an insect bite is a clear indication that summer pests are crawling (or buzzing) out to make the most of the warm summer weather. All too often their pursuits (foraging for crumbs from the picnic plates, climbing inside fizzy drink cans or trying to eat our melting ice creams before we do!) bring them quite literally, into painful contact with us.

Did you however, know that there is an actual pain index dedicated to insect stings and bites? The Schmidt Pain Index – created by the University of Arizona entomologist Justin Schmidt, puts the pain caused by 78 different species on a scale of 0-4. Completely harmless with no pain at 0 to 4 which in Schmidt’s words “You don’t want to know – the pain is so immediate and intense it shuts down all illusions of life as normal”. As well as the level of pain the Schmidt Pain Index provides details on the duration of the pain, with apt but rather unscientific descriptions that almost remind you of wine-tasting notes!


Ants are a common sight in the UK during the summer, Garden ants in particular will forage for sweet, sugary foods in kitchen cupboards and food crumbs under appliances and units. There are tips to help prevent ants and thankfully our native ant species are not the painful stingers on Schmidt’s index.

Fire Ant

  •  Pain scale: 1.2
  • Duration of pain: 2 – 5 minutes
  • Description:“Sharp, sudden, mildly alarming. Like walking across a shag carpet and reaching for the light switch”.

Red Harvest Ant

  • Pain scale: 3.0
  • Duration of pain: 1 – 8 hours
  • Description: “Bold and unrelenting. Someone is using a drill to excavate your ingrown toenail”.

Bullet Ant

  • Pain scale: 4.0+
  • Duration of pain: 12 – 24 hours
  • Description: “Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Likefire-walking over flaming coals with a 3 inch rusty nail in your heel”.

Bees, Wasps and Hornets

wasps on fruitBee populations, especially honey bees have suffered a serious decline in recent years. Pollinators such as honey and bumble bees are vital to our ecosystem. Planting your garden with lavendar, honeysuckle and hebe’s for example can help them survive. They are not naturally aggressive, tending to sting as a defensive last resort, with many species dying after delivering a sting. Wasps however can be more aggressive, especially if they precieve a threat to their nest. It’s only female wasps that have a sting, but they can use it repeatedly if threatened. Schmidt’s desciptions of these stings may resonate with those who have suffered from them.

Honey bee

  • Pain scale: 2.0
  • Duration of pain: 4 – 10 minutes
  • Description: “Like a matchhead that flips off and burns the skin”.

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”.

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”.

As you can tell from the detailed descriptions Schmidt put into his Pain Index, suffering a sting or bite can be an alarming and quite painful experience. For a small minority of people however, it can far more serious. Anaphylactic shock is an extreme and severe allergic reaction to a substance (such as a wasp or bee sting) to which the body has become hypersensitive.

There is an old saying that “prevention is always better than a cure”. In the case of insect stings there are somethings you can do to try and avoid being stung by wasps and not test the Schmidt Pain Index for yourself.

Tips to avoid wasp stings

  • Avoid open drinks - If drink cans or bottles are left unattended,  wasps to crawl inside.
  • Stay clean – Ensure children’s hands/faces are cleaned after eating sweet foods/drinks.
  • Avoid bright colours – Don’t wear bright, bold floral patterns on clothes & bags, which could attract wasps, mistaking you for flowers.
  • Don’t scream, flap your arms or swat them – This will just agitate them and make them more aggressive.

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