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Where is the worst place to get stung by a bee?

Summer is just around the corner. And that means lots of picnics, walking barefoot in the grass and long days outside. Since we share the great outdoors with many wonderful creatures, chances are we will get in each other's way. Unlike wasps and yellow jackets, honey bees don't want to sting you. They don't want to sting you because if they do, they will die. The stinger becomes stuck in your skin. When the honey bee tries to fly away, she rips away part of her abdomen and internal organs and will die a few minutes later.


Honey Bee

Michael Smith had an idea, a very brave (or crazy) idea. A graduate student at Cornell University, Smith studies the behavior and evolution of honey bees. Interesting, for sure. But in all of his research, he couldn't find any data showing the worst place on a human body to get stung by a bee. In 1984, Justin Schmidt developed the Schmidt Sting Pain Indexa scale that rates the pain of insect stings from 1 to 4. Schmidt's descriptions are wonderful to read. Steer clear of bullet ants after reading this:

Animal: Bullet ant
Schmidt Index: 4.0+
Description: Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail grinding into your heel.

Schmidt discovered that pain varies greatly depending on the insect doing the stinging. But he didn't make any reference to pain levels on different parts of the body. So Smith took it upon himself to find out, using himself as his subject. He gave himself five stings a day for 38 days on 25 different body parts. “Some locations required the use of a mirror and an erect posture during stinging (e.g., buttocks),” he wrote in his Study. You're probably chuckling at this but I doubt that Smith was laughing at the time. Although, the buttocks only ranked 3.7 on the pain scale, pretty low compared to the highest rating of 9 in the (and no, not there where you may have expected) nostrils.

This data is clearly subjective. But Smith states, "I didn't see a lot of merit in repeating this with more subjects." So we can relax in knowing that no further subjects will be recruited in the name of science.

And here's a simple piece of advice from Smith:

Smith advised: "If you have a bee buzzing around you and you think it's peeved, if you calm down, don't breathe a lot – they are attracted to carbon dioxide – and slowly walk away, you will be fine. Most stings are probably wasps."


Smith Pain Index Diagram

Smith's Pain Map. The scale is from 1 to 10.

Reference: Smith. 2014. Honey bee sting pain index by body location. PeerJ.

Share your best bee sting story in the comments, all in the name of science of course.

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