5 Most Painful Wasp Stings

Justin O. Schmidt an entomologist from Arizona conducted research and compiled a list of the pain insect stings inflict on humans. Known as ‘the man of 1000 stings’ he was stung over 1000 times in the process of compiling the list. The highest score on his pain index was a 4. Only three insects were given the highest rating. They were the bullet Ant, tarantula hawk, and the warrior wasp. Two of these three are wasps. Below is a list of the top 5 most painful wasp stings.

Watch the top 5 countdown

The most painful wasp stings according to the Schmidt pain index are:

  1. Warrior Wasp (Synoeca septentrionalis) – Schmidt pain index 4
  2. Tarantula Hawk (Pepsis sp.) – Schmidt pain index 4
  3. Velvet Ant (Dasymutilla klugii) note this actually a wasp despite its name – Schmidt pain index 3
  4. Red Headed Paper Wasp (Polistes erythrocephalus) – Schmidt pain index 3
  5. Red Paper Wasp (Polistes canadensis) – Schmidt pain index 3

Let’s take a closer look at each of these.

1. Warrior Wasp (Synoeca septentrionalis)

“Torture. You are chained in the flow of an active volcano. Why did I start this list?”

JUSTIN O. SCHMIDT
Synoeca septentrionalis – Antonio Aranda Pineda, CC BY 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The warrior wasp or synoeca is found in South America and is the only other wasp to be given the highest score on Schmidt’s pain index alongside the Tarantula Hawk. The pain lasts for 150 minutes or more.

They are regarded as extremely aggressive and will beat their wings in a fearsome display at anything getting anywhere near their nest. Read more about the warrior wasp here.

2. Tarantula Hawk (Pepsis sp.)

“Blinding fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair dryer has been dropped into your bubble bath. A bolt out of the heavens. Lie down and scream.”

Justin o. schmidt
tarantula hawk
tarantula hawk – makasanaphoto@123rf.com

The pain from this sting is reported to last up to 24 hours but the intense pain lasts for about 5 minutes. Found in the southern parts of North America and South America.

The tarantula hawk targets tarantulas. They will sting the tarantula and paralyze them with strong venom. Once paralyzed the wasp will move the spider, still alive, to its nest. Once there the wasp lays a single egg on the spider. The egg will hatch and develop into larvae that will gradually feast on the inside of the paralyzed spider.

What makes this even more disturbing is that they have evolved to spare the spider’s vital organs for last to keep the spider alive for as long as possible to prevent any decay from occurring. 

Being paralyzed and then slowly eaten from the inside out truly is the stuff of nightmares. Read more about tarantula hawks here

3. Velvet Ant (Dasymutilla klugii)

“Explosive and long-lasting, you sound insane as you scream. Hot oil from the deep fryer pouring all over your entire hand.”

JUSTIN O. SCHMIDT
Dasymutilla klugii – Insects Unlocked, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The females of these wasps are wingless and resemble ants, hence the erroneous name. The pain from the sting lasts for up to 30 minutes. Found worldwide including the American Midwest. They also have the nickname ‘cow killer‘ although there are no confirmed cases of them actually killing cows, the pain is such that it was thought not impossible.

They have a particularly strong exoskeleton that can endure up to eleven times more force than a honeybee. If that wasn’t enough, they also have the longest stinger of all wasps and the most maneuverability, meaning they will find a way to sting pretty much any which way they are held. Find out more about velvet ants here.

4. Red Headed Paper Wasp (Polistes erythrocephalus) – pain index 3

“Immediate. Irrationally intense, and unrelenting. This is as close as you will get to see the blue of a flame from within the fire.”

JUSTIN O. SCHMIDT
Polistes erythrocephalus – from Cradley, Malvern, U.K, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This species of paper wasp is found in central and South America. It has a black abdomen and a rust-colored head. It is about 0.8 inches in length (2 cm).

They play a vital role as a pest controller in South America by controlling leaf-eating worms on tobacco farms. Read more about the red-headed paper wasp here

5. Red Paper Wasp (Polistes canadensis)

“Caustic and burning. Distinctly bitter after taste. Like spilling a beaker of hydrochloric acid on a paper cut.”

JUSTIN O. SCHMIDT
Red Paper wasp
Red paper wasp – dwiputras@123rf.com

The intense pain from this sting lasts for up to 10 minutes. This species of paper wasp is found throughout North and South America. It constructs its nests from paper, often on and in human construction such as sheds and other sheltered buildings. Read more about the red paper wasp here.

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