Jennifer Hacket, from Scientific American interviews University of Arizona entomologist Justin Schmidt. Schmidt has just published a book called The Sting of the Wild, where he chronicles and categorizes the stings of various insects. Check out Ms. Hacket’s interview, and buy Mr. Schmidt’s book.
I was studying the tarantula hawk—it’s the highest, most intense immediate pain of any of the insects. It really gets your attention. But the pain goes away in two to three minutes, which is kind of odd. When you try to determine if it does any damage, it does virtually none! Then you’ve got others, like the honeybee, which do a lot of damage. You get all red and puffy, and four stings will kill a mouse—and the mouse is relevant because mice invade colonies in the winter and then eat all the honey and the brood and the bees, and they’re a threat to the bee. The ultimate is you can kill that thing, which takes it out of the gene pool. That’s relevant for honeybee colonies or a yellow jacket colony or many ant colonies—things that have long-lived colonies with many individuals who can’t flee or run. When I looked at those and said, What’s the difference? the difference is the tarantula hawk has nothing to defend except her own personal body. What’s the goal to defending yourself? You basically want whoever’s got you to let you go. The best way to do that is to instantaneously nail them and give them a huge painful jab. There’s no real reason to make the pain last any longer.