I wanted to pass this unusual article on to all of you to
consider when encountering a stinging insect in the field.
The New York Times, August 10, 2009
Oh, Sting, Where Is Thy Death?
By Richard Conniff
Not long ago, I got stung by a yellow jacket, and after the usual
ow-plus-obscenities moment, I found myself thinking about pain,
happiness, and Justin O. Schmidt. He's an Arizona entomologist and
co-author of the standard text in the insect sting field, "Insect
Defenses: Adaptive Mechanisms and Strategies of Prey and Predators."
But he's more widely celebrated as the creator of the "Justin O.
Schmidt Sting Pain Index," a connoisseur's guide to just how bad the
ouch is, on a scale of one ("a tiny spark") to four ("absolutely
Among connoisseurs of insect stings, it's the equivalent of
Robert Parker's wine ratings. Schmidt has been stung by about 150
different species on six continents and seems to have opinions about
all of them. In faux-Parker mode, he once described a bald-faced
hornet sting as "Rich, hearty, slightly crunchy. Similar to getting
your hand mashed in a revolving door." Other researchers tend to
regard his work with fascination. But hardly anyone tries to
replicate his results.
Continued at: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/center/articles/2009/new-york-times-08-10-2009.html
Doug Bidlack wrote (August 22, 2009) Saddleback
I enjoyed the article. I remember hearing about this guy Schmidt
while I was at Clemson. I was told that cicada killers and cow
killers (a large species of velvet ant which is actually a wasp)
were really quite painful and I always wondered who this guy was.
My great appreciation for all sorts of wasps started while I was at
Tennessee. I studied host plant resistance and parasitoids in
tobacco. The main pests that I studied were tobacco budworm and
corn earworm. I was absolutely amazed at how few of these
caterpillars ever became adults. Early in the year more than 90%
were taken out by an ichneumonid parasitoid and a little later in
the year most were hammered by a braconid parasitoid (both of these
are small wasps). By the end of the year most were being killed by
a couple of parasitic flies. This doesn't even include those that
would have been lost to predation by various larger wasps if I
wouldn't have removed them from the field into small
cups filled with food. I once watched a very large tobacco
hornworm get torn to pieces by an amazingly large and beautiful
paper wasp. The hornworm thrashed about like crazy whenever the
wasp came near but it would skillfully fly up behind the beast and
bite right behind the head area. After a few of these bites the
hornworm was basically defenseless and the wasp carved up large
pieces and flew off. Every bit as intense as a lion taking down a
zebra. Nowadays I prize the nests of all manner of wasps because of
my garden. I have a nice bald-faced hornet nest on one corner of
the house and a whole bunch of paper wasp nests all over the place.
They terrorize the local caterpillar population. I also plant lots
of herbs and flowers to bring in parasitic wasps, flies and all
kinds of other predatory insects. They really love stuff like
goatsbeard, summersweet (sweet pepperbush) and bottlebrush buckeyes.
Today I got stung by a really cool insect. When I went to cut
some of the gladiolas to bring in to the house I thought I was
pricked by one of the sharp leaf tips. It hurt more than just a
prick though and I looked down to see a saddleback caterpillar. I
had never seen one in the wild before and I had no idea that they
occurred this far north. When I looked them up in a book I read
that they can be found from Florida to Massachusetts to Missouri to
Texas. I would rate the sting about the same as a paper wasp. Not
too bad. I was surprised to see that Schmidt ranked paper wasps
ahead of yellowjackets and honeybees. He must mean a different
species than the common ones here in the east...maybe like the giant
one I saw in Tennessee. There are over 20 species of paper wasps in
North America. I attached some photos of the cool saddlebacks plus
a picture of the flowers that were well worth the little sting.