Insects Bite and Sting for Good
Most people understand that some insects bite and some insects sting
--just two of the reasons that many folks don't like insects. In fact,
biting and stinging might be the main reasons that humans hate insects
Insects haven't taken to biting and stinging humans just to be mean.
Biting and stinging behavior is associated with survival of these six-legged
creatures. Such activity is generally related to food for the insect or
its offspring. Take, for instance, the bite of a mosquito. It has to do
with getting a blood meal. The same is true for horse flies, deer flies
and stable flies when they bite.
Stinging can be related to procuring a meal for the offspring. Many wasps
use a stinger to paralyze an insect as food for their babies. That is
why a cicada killer wasp stings a cicada and drags it to a hole in the
ground for the offspring.
In other instances, the sting functions to defend the insect or its colony
from harm. Wasps will sting for that reason although they also use their
stingers to procure food. Bees, on the other hand, only use their stingers
as defensive weapons.
Insect stings cause pain and suffering to recipient animals. And that
is the way the insect wants it to be. The sting is designed to get the
animal to let go of the insect or run away from the nest.
So which insect has the worst sting? It probably depends on whom you
ask. There really hasn't been much research on the subject. But, a few
years ago, Christopher Starr wrote an article entitled, "A Pain Scale
for Bee, Wasp and Ant Stings." In the article, Starr concludes that
the severity of stinging is related to "the number of potential defenders
of the colony, their readiness to attack, and the effectiveness of a single
The first two stinging severity categories, numbers and willingness to
attack, are easy to understand. Especially by any of us who at some time
in our misspent youth intentionally disturbed a bumble bee or hornet nest
in order to incite a human and insect war. This, I have been told, is
primarily an activity of young boys! Rest assured, though, that the human
participants quickly learn that insect numbers and willingness to attack
have a direct relationship to pain from insect stings.
The third category, the one dealing with the effectiveness of a single
sting, is difficult to define. The reason is that the severity of an insect
sting is related to the type of poison, the amount of poison, the structure
of the stinger and the reaction of the animal to the sting. For instance,
some people are allergic to the poison used by insects in stings. In this
case, the person will show such a severe reaction to the poison that they
could die without medical treatment.
For most people, though, the response to an insect sting is local pain
and swelling. As a true scientist, Starr ranked insect stings on a pain
scale of 1 to 4 where 1 is slight pain and 4 traumatically painful. On
this scale, the sting of a honey bee, bumble bee or yellow jacket is rated
a 2. A paper wasp, like those that build nests under the eves, was given
a 3 -- sharply and seriously painful. South American bullet ants were
However, we know that the pain of a sting varies among people. Sometimes,
in individuals, the pain gets less as you get stung more often. Bee keepers
can become tolerant to honey bee stings during the summer season. On the
other hand, some people become more susceptible as they get more stings
and, at some point, might exhibit such a severe reaction that medical
treatment becomes necessary.
Insect bites also vary from person to person in the amount of pain they
inflict. For instance, when a mosquito bites, there may be little or no
pain experienced by the victim. That is the way the insect wants it to
be since it would like to take a blood meal without the donor noticing.
However, the chemical it injects to keep the blood from clotting causes
the irritation we know as mosquito bites and the amount of irritation
varies from person to person.
So the severity of insect bites and stings depends on the insect and
on the reaction of the person. But rest assured that insects have a reason
for bites and stings -- and it's not just to make us suffer!