Most of us do our best to avoid being stung by insects, but for University of Georgia graduate Justin O. Schmidt, it’s all part of the job. Schmidt will explain why in a talk at UGA’s Odum School of Ecology auditorium at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday.
The talk and a following reception and book-signing are free and open to all. Copies of Schmidt’s most recent book, “The Sting of the Wild: The Story of the Man Who Got Stung for Science,” will be available for purchase.
Schmidt, a student member of the UGA Institute of Ecology in the 1970s who received his doctorate in entomology in 1977, is best known as the creator of the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, which he developed by allowing himself to be stung by 83 different species of insects.
In “The Sting of the Wild,” published in 2016 by Johns Hopkins University Press, Schmidt chronicles his adventures in the insect world and explains the how and why of insect stings. The book’s appendix contains the entire Schmidt Sting Pain Index, which ranks stings on a numerical scale from zero (least painful) to four (torture). It includes descriptions of all 83 that sound like they could have been written by a wine critic.
The sting of the red fire ant, which receives a ranking of one on the scale, is described as “Sharp, sudden, mildly alarming. Like walking across a shag carpet and reaching for the light switch,” while the sting of the bullet ant — a four — is “Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like walking over flaming charcoal with a three-inch nail embedded in your heel.”
The bullet ant isn’t native to this part of the world, where the strongest sting we’re likely to encounter is the velvet ant’s. The velvet ant, also called the cow-killer, is actually a kind of wasp and rates a three, which is still very painful, like “hot oil from the deep frying spilling over your entire hand,” in Schmidt’s description.
Schmidt’s work has garnered him the nickname “King of Sting” and earned him a 2015 Ig Nobel Prize, awarded for scientific achievements “that first make people laugh, and then make them think.”
Schmidt is a research biologist with the Southwest Biological Institute and adjunct professor of entomology at the University of Arizona. His talk, called “Ant, wasp, and bee stings: Paving the road for evolution of sociality in Hymenoptera,” is co-sponsored by the Georgia Museum of Natural History and the department of entomology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.