A researcher from Cornell University wanted to know where on his body a honeybee sting would hurt the most. So, graduate student Michael Smith decided to let bees sting him all over for 38 days.
National Geographic reports “Smith was methodical. He collected bees by grabbing wings “haphazardly with forceps” and pressing them against the body part of choice. He left the stinger there for a full minute before removing it, and then rated his pain on a scale of 1 to 10.”
Smith was already accustomed to the occasional bee sting as part of his work studying honeybees. But one sting on his testicles was different.
“If you’re wearing shorts and doing bee work, a bee can get up there easily,” he says. “But I was really surprised that it didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would.”
He set out to find out why that sting didn’t hurt as much as he expected.
If being stung down there wasn’t the worst place to be stung, where indeed was it?
Turns out Smith was following in the footsteps of a previous researcher, Justin Schmidt, creator of the Schmidt sting pain index. That's a scale that measures the painfulness of insect stings that almost read like wine-tasting notes.
Wine-tasting notes of agony, National Geographic reports.
For example, according to Schmidt’s index, the sweat bee sting feels like “a tiny spark has singed a single hair on your arm”. The yellowjacket sting is “hot and smoky, almost irreverent; imagine W. C. Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.” And the daddy of stinging insects—the bullet ant—produces “pure, intense, brilliant pain, like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail grinding into your heel.”
For his study, Smith administered five bee stings a day, always between 9 and 10 a.m., and always starting and ending with “test stings” on his forearm to calibrate the ratings.
He kept this up for 38 days, stinging himself three times each on 25 different body parts. “Some locations required the use of a mirror and an erect posture during stinging (e.g., buttocks).”
Smith notes the study was limited by its sample size of one. And of course, as the only study subject, Smith did not test the bee stings on female genitalia, Digital Journal reports, so it's unclear how his findings would compare with those of a female subject.
Nonetheless, Smith says, his findings are still interesting.
So what were the most painful places to be stung?
Ranked 1 for mild to 10 for excruciating:
2) Upper lip
9) Middle finger tip
“All the stings induced pain in the author,” Smith writes.
“Especially the nose. Your body really reacts. You’re sneezing and wheezing and snot is just dribbling out. Getting stung in the nose is a whole-body experience.”
The least painful spots were:
24) Middle toe tip
23) Upper arm