Nipple, penis, or nostril — what’s the most painful place to be stung by a bee? (The answer might surprise you.)

By Seriously Science | April 7, 2014 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/forevertrusting

Photo: flickr/forevertrusting

In the 1980s, a man named Justin Schmidt invented the Schmidt pain index, which measured the painfulness of stings from 78 species of insects on a scale of 0 to 4 (the only stings that rated 4 were the bullet ant and the tarantula hawk). Of course, pain is subjective, so Schmidt rated all of the stings himself. In that tradition, the author of this study hypothesized that the pain level of a sting also depends on its location on the body. He tested this hypothesis by — you guessed it — getting stung. A lot. Turns out that the most painful location for being stung by a bee is on the nostril, followed by the lip and the penis. Yup, the penis.

Honey bee sting pain index by body location

“The Schmidt Sting Pain Index rates the painfulness of 78 Hymenoptera species, using the honey bee as a reference point. However, the question of how sting painfulness varies depending on body location remains unanswered. This study rated the painfulness of honey bee stings over 25 body locations in one subject (the author). Pain was rated on a 1–10 scale, relative to an internal standard, the forearm. In the single subject, pain ratings were consistent over three repetitions. Sting location was a significant predictor of the pain rating in a linear model (p < 0.0001, DF = 25, 94, F = 27.4). The three least painful locations were the skull, middle toe tip, and upper arm (all scoring a 2.3). The three most painful locations were the nostril, upper lip, and penis shaft (9.0, 8.7, and 7.3, respectively). This study provides an index of how the painfulness of a honey bee sting varies depending on body location.”

Figure 1: Sting Locations. Drawing of the human form with Xs and labels at the sting locations.

Figure 1: Sting Locations.
Drawing of the human form with Xs and labels at the sting locations.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: fun with animals, WTF?
  • Elaine Woods

    Idk….I got stung on the calf once and I was in agony for at least an hour. It turned black and blue 2 days later and itched like crazy for a week :(

    • papertiger0

      Ouch

      • Jim

        Mine swelled up like a horse, the wife just ordered a bee hive.

  • Hobobob52

    How bout the surface of your eyeball? Or your eardrum?

    • Ben Merrill

      I got stung in the eyeball last summer. Probably the definition of a 10. I managed to get the stinger out with lots of water and lots of blinking and it was bloodshot for well over a week. I didn’t lose it so I call myself lucky. I also got stung inside the mouth when I was 12, and that was my pain standard for years…

      • moreofthesame

        This is one of the scariest things I have ever read. Glad it worked out for you.

        • Danny

          ditto

      • Danny

        For me my standard of pain is the time I had a hernia operation as a kid. After the surgery was finished they stitched me up and put a giant bandage over my stomach… This caused a lot of pain but wasn’t the worst part of the ordeal.
        My Mom and Grandmother drove me back home. When we got home I was in a significant amount of pain and was feeling a bit off but I probably could have hobbled inside on my own. However my mom and puny old grandmother wouldn’t hear anything of it! They insisted on carrying me inside… Do you see where this is going?… So granny grabbed me by the legs and my mom grabbed me by the arms and together they barely, barely, just barely managed to carry me inside. In the process they managed to drop me about a dozen times and they must have twisted and stretched me out in just about every conceivable way! They meant well by this but their effort ended up hurting me a whole lot more than it would have if I had just walked inside! Suffice to say that I had a few torn stitches and a big red spot over the incision! I don’t think that this is quite as bad as being stung in the eyeball but it hurt more than anything else that I have experienced so far, and it is therefore my current standard of pain!

  • Kyle

    A bumblebee stung my armpit a dozen times. The reaction is to clamp down harder and they can sting repeatedly. Very painful.

    • Jason Smith

      I thought the stinger came out after the first strike. That seems odd.

      • evalderramaster

        Bee stingers stay in the flesh and automatically dig in. I believe bumble bees just sting without ‘investing’ their stinger.

      • Jeremy Tassoff

        Unlike honey bees, a bumble bee’s stinger is not barbed, so can be used multiple times.

  • Hoffman

    I would have said eye lid

    • m00ndog

      I have been stung on my eyelid and it was, indeed painful. I was also stung between the toes and that was pretty nasty, too. Can’t say which was worse, however, since the incidents were several years apart.

      • Danny

        It probably isn’t as bad as being stung on the eyelid, but I have been stung on the back of the ear before which was very painful! I haven’t ever been stung on the eyelid before, however I did pop a zit on my eyelid once and that was indeed very very painful so I think that I might get where you are coming from!

  • m00ndog

    Interesting study by a fellow who was, apparently, crazy. :-)

    Actually, getting stung by bees (at least the average bumble bee) is really quite unnecessary. Just ignore them and they’ll ignore you.

    On the other hand, if you do want to get stung, wave your arms wildly and they will reward you with a sting.

  • Patricia Cesaro

    your article states that ‘nipple’ might be the most painful? but, you never follow up in the nipple’s pain rating? did you forget that the title of the study included this ridiculously sensitive part of the breast???

  • Mike Ralls

    Well, unless one of us is willing to get stung in these places, males only need apply, our statements about degree of pain and location are meaningless as we have little to no ability to make a relative comparison as the scientist did. I said scientist but thought crazy.

    • Danny

      batshit crazy!

  • Mike Dudimus

    what about the glans?

  • yolandatamez

    I got stung by two bees on the hand and my hand and arm were swollen all the way up to my elbow it looked horrible of course now I have to have an epi pen because I am allergic to the sting..yikes…

  • Kindanyume

    They forgot about clitoris! /faepalm

  • Andrew Miller

    I got stung on the helix of my ear by a honeybee once and I’d say it was right painful, my ear swelled up for a couple of days and hurt the entire time

  • http://www.myspace.com/chesterthewolfe Victor aka Chester Woof

    True Story! One time I had a Bee Fly in my Mouth and I instinctively spit it out and it stung my upper lip on the way out and then stung my Girlfriend’s Vagina.

    • Danny

      How did that happen?

      • http://www.myspace.com/chesterthewolfe Victor aka Chester Woof

        …Accidentally?

  • Richard

    I got stung in my emotions by a woman and that’s even more painful :)

  • Douglas Penning

    I’ve been a beekeeper for over ten years and I’ve been stung so many times I have lost count. Bee sting pain can be alleviated completely in most cases, by rubbing honey on the sting. Natural honey, not store bought honey. And I can tell you I have bee stung in some of the worst places: shaft, glands, all over the face, hands legs, back… I agree all these places are very painful. Since learning about honey as a cure I have not experienced the pain level most of you are describing. I now keep a small jar of natural honey in my pocket when I work with bees. When a bee stings it does two things: First, it gives a painful warning that you maybe harming the queen, harming the hive or harming the bee, Second, it gives off a pheromone that tells other bees to attack here… Honey covers the pheromone and alleviates the pain…

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