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How painful is a bee sting?

New study extends the “Schmidt Sting Pain Index”

Jan 15, 2015
A bee sting painfulness varies widely depending on body location

Entomologist Justin O. Schmidt had published his “Sting Pain Index” in the 1980s, judging the painfulness of stings from 78 species of Hymenoptera (bees, wasps, ants), using the honey bee as a reference point.

Michael L. Smith from the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at Cornell University now goes one step further, studying how sting painfulness varies depending on body location.

Michael L. Smith’s recent investigations looked into the painfulness of honey bee stings over 25 body locations. Using himself as the subject, he rated the pain on a 1-10 scale. In three stinging rounds, the results were consistent: The least painful locations are the skull, middle toe tip, and upper arm (all scoring 2.3). The most painful locations were the nostril (9.0) and upper lip (8.7). These results closely mirror results from pressure pain studies.

The study used the European honey bee (Apis mellifera) as its standard, because bees occur throughout the globe which means that their stings are familiar to many.  In addition, the original “Schmidt Sting Pain Index” used the honey bee sting as an internal base point for investigators to rate other stings, making the bee a logical standard for future studies.

The present study was recently published in the biological and medical sciences journal PeerJ

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