Nature

Viral YouTuber discovers a hellish new benchmark for the most agonising sting ever

Nathaniel ‘Coyote’ Peterson knows his stings. From scorpions to bullet ants, the YouTube celebrity endures intense pain in the name of education, if not a few million clicks.

But recently he discovered a new contender for the most agonising of insect weapons, and it’s not one he’d expected.

Peterson’s channel Brave Wilderness currently has close to 14 million subscribers; many, no doubt, there to watch a grown man roll on the ground clutching his forearm after being stung by something nasty.   

Accusations of click bait aside, there is something to be said for his dedication to exploring what’s known as the Schmidt sting pain index – a very real rating system used to measure the agonising pain of stings.

It was developed by American entomologist Justin Schmidt – now in his 70s – who, like Peterson, felt the best way to analyse the pain of insect stings was to take one for the team.

Over several decades in the late 20th century, Schmidt ranked and refined the level of discomfort produced by the venoms of nearly 80 species belonging to the insect order Hymenoptera – what most of us regard as bees, wasps, and ants.

Peterson followed in Schmidt’s footsteps in a series of episodes on Hymenoptera stings, searching for specimens on the list in order and building up to a finale of what has been considered the worst of the worst, the bullet ant.

Theoretically, that should have been the end of it. But in December, a video was posted featuring a chance discovery of an unfamiliar looking wasp while exploring the wilds of Latin America.

A quick internet search revealed it was a specimen known as an executioner wasp.

And since there was no sign of such a beast on Schmidt’s list, Peterson took the opportunity to see just how bad its sting might be.

You’ve probably already guessed. It’s bad.

The video is worth a watch, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Let me sum it up for you anyway. Man gets stung. Man rolls on ground. Man squeals and grunts, thumps ground a lot, makes more animal sounds threw gritted teeth. 

“I think we have a new king here folks,” Peterson finally says, claiming the wasp’s sting produced a burning sensation, sharper than the one he felt from the bullet ant.

After some time passes, Peterson reaffirms this sting made the grade as the worst he’s ever experienced. Check-mate bullet ant.

Whether the executioner wasp will officially slip into the top spot of Schmidt’s pain index sometime in the future is a matter of debate.

There’s also the question of how individuals respond differently to pain-inducing venoms, variation of individual stings, and the role particular conditions might play on a given day.

Usually science demands replication. But this might be one case where nobody could be blamed for hesitating in chasing up a grant for a follow-up study.

We might just take Coyote’s word on it for the time being.

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