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10 of the Most Painful Stinging Insects (Ranked)

This article covers 10 of the most painful stinging insects, including a description of how painful it can be! If you’ve ever been stung before, you know it’s never a pleasant feeling.

However, all insects offer different degrees of pain. When comparing insect stings, the Schmidt sting pain index (below) comes in handy. It’s a pain scale that rates the pain caused by different stings in the following pain levels:

  • Level 0: no pain at all
  • Level 1: slight pain lasting around 5 minutes or less
  • Level 2: more pain like a migraine and lasting 5 to 10 minutes
  • Level 3: Very painful but can last from one to 30 minutes
  • Level 4: Most painful, ranging from intense to paralyzing

10 most painful stinging insects

Here is a list of 10 insects with the most painful stings highly rated on the Schmidt sting pain index.

1. Trap-jaw ant

Adult trap-jaw ant
Adult trap-jaw ant
  • Scientific name: Odontomachus bauri
  • Pain index level: 2.5

The trap-jaw ant is native to Central and South America. They get their name from their fast snapping jaws they use to crush prey after paralyzing prey with their stingers. Their jaws are the fasted worldwide, moving at 115 to 207 feet per second.

These ants have non-barbed stingers with a protective cover that are retractable, meaning they can use it repeatedly. They deliver an instantaneous and excruciating pain that lasts 5 to 10 minutes. The pain has been compared to getting your finger snapped on by a rat trap.

2. Giant Bornean bee

Giant bornean bee
Giant bornean bee on post | image by Gee via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific name: Xylocopa latipes
  • Pain index level: 2.5

The giant Bornean bee is one of the largest bees worldwide, they also provide the most painful bee stings. Their sting is described as a sharp, electrifying, and piercing pain that can last up to 10 minutes.

Luckily, these bees aren’t aggressive and will avoid stinging if they can. They are sometimes called carpenter bees, native to Asia, have black bodies, and purple wings.

3. Nocturnal hornet

Nocturnal hornet
Nocturnal hornet at night | image by Gee via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific genus: Provespa
  • Pain index level: 2.5

Also called night hornet, the nocturnal hornet comes out at night, unlike most hornet species. They are reddish-orange or very light brown with brownish-yellow wings and no distinctive patterns on their body.

The pain of their sting that lasts 5 to 10 minutes is described as having a campfire ember glued to your skin.

4. Red paper wasp

Red Paper Wasp
A Red Paper Wasp, Polistes carolina | image by Insects Unlocked via Flickr
  • Scientific name: Polistes canadensis
  • Pain index level: 3

Red paper wasps are one-inch reddish wasps with black wings that pack a powerful punch. The pain from their sting lasts 5 to 10 minutes and feels like pouring acid onto a paper cut.

You can find these wasps from the United States down to Argentina. They build nests in buildings and open habitats, such as tree trunks, sheds, and caves. Paper wasps get their names from the materials they build their nest with, which they turn paper-like. You can find up to 30 wasps in one nest.

5. Northern paper wasp

Northern paper wasp
Northern paper wasp | image by Mark Nenadov via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific name: Polistes fuscatus
  • Pain index level: 3

Another painful stinging paper wasp, is the northern paper wasp species. They live throughout midwest states and often build their nests near human structures. They are extremely aggressive and will attack if they feel their nest is threatened.

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Not only do they deliver an excruciatingly burning and painful sting, but these wasps can sting repeatedly and cause swelling. People with allergic reactions can easily die from a sting.

6. Red harvester ant

red harvester ant
A red harvester ant | image by Royce Milam via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific name: Pogonomyrmex barbatus
  • Pain index level: 3

The red harvester ant is typically reluctant to sting unless they feel threatened. However, when they do sting it’s a situation of medical concern since the effects can spread to your lymph channels. The pain lasts only a few minutes but is described as similar to having a drill go through you.

These ants grow between 1.25 to 1.5 inches long and have reddish to dark brown bodies. They are native to southwestern U.S. states and build nests underground.

7. Velvet ant

Velvet Ant
Velvet Ant | image by Judy Gallagher via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific name: Dasymutilla occidentalis
  • Pain index level: 3

Also known as the cow killer or eastern velvet ant, you can find velvet ants from Florida to Texas and Connecticut to Kansas. Despite its name, the velvet ant is not a true ant but actually a wingless parasitoid wasp.

They have one of the longest stingers in comparison to their body size. The pain of their sting is described as explosive, lasting 30 minutes, and comparable to getting hot oil from a deep fryer spilled on your hand.

8. Tarantula hawk wasp

Tarantula hawk wasp
A tarantula hawk wasp | image by Renee Grayson via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific name: Pompilidae
  • Pain index level: 4

Although the pain lasts only around 5 minutes, the tarantula hawk wasp sting is painfully electric. It is described as pain similar to having a running hair dryer drop in your bathwater.

These insects are a species of spider wasp that mostly prey on tarantulas. They will paralyze the spider with their stinger and drag the tarantula back to their nest to feed. You can find these 2-inch wasps throughout North and South America.

9. Warrior wasp

  • Scientific name: Synoeca septentrionalis
  • Pain index level: 4

The pain of the warrior wasp is one of the worse among wasps. Not only is it torture, but it can last up to 2 hours. On top of the shooting pain, their sting also leads to swelling that needs medical attention.

These wasps have aggressive behavior. When they feel threatened, they flap their wings in a percussive way, sounding like marching soldiers.

10. Bullet ant

Adult bullet ant queen
Adult bullet ant queen
  • Scientific name: Paraponera clavata
  • Pain index level: 4+

The most painful insect sting listed on the Schmidt sting pain index is the bullet ant with a 4+ rating. Their sting is intensely painful comparable to walking over flaming charcoal with a nail in your heel. It also is known to feel like being shot, giving these ants their name. To make it worse, the pain can also last up to 5 hours!

Bullet ants grow 1.2 inches and live in colonies at the base of trees in tropical rainforests. They are reddish-black with large visible stingers.