The Sting of the Wild: The Story of the Man Who Got Stung for Science by Justin O. Schmidt. Johns Hopkins University Press, Maryland. Copyright © 2016 by Johns Hopkins University Press. This review refers to the hardcover edition.
I got a nasty sting yesterday. In the first 15 seconds, I exhausted every cuss word I know. Then I began to worry about how I would type without using the letters C, D, or E. E is a killer.
Of course, I was being stupid. I should have remembered that a yellowjacket in a net is not a contented creature. I had been scooping up yellowjackets that were bugging my hives, and each time I caught one I held the net up to the light to make sure that my victim was not a bee. The last time, when I grabbed the fabric without looking, I became the victim.
I’m with Aristotle on this one. He believed that wasp stings are worse than honey bee stings. After yesterday, I’m convinced he was right. In comparison, I hardly notice a honey bee sting, especially on a finger. But the pain from this yellowjacket lingered all afternoon without leaving the slightest mark or red spot.
The world authority on insect stings
When it comes to stings and how they feel, the world authority is Justin O. Schmidt. As many of you know, Schmidt is the entomologist who allowed himself to be stung by a vast array of insects in order to categorize the relative effects of their stings on human beings. From these experiences he developed the “Pain Scale for Stinging Insects,” divided into three parts: ants, bees, and wasps.
When I consulted these charts after getting stung, I found that he rates the pain level of both the honey bee and the western yellowjacket at 2. That’s when I took sides with Aristotle.
Now the book
In spite of this slight disagreement, I love Schmidt’s new book, The Sting of the Wild: The Story of the Man Who Got Stung for Science. The book is fun to read and I’m learning more about stings than I ever thought possible.
Entomologists are some of the funniest people I know, and books by entomologists nearly always make me laugh. They know they are strange, but instead of fighting it, they embrace it. Schmidt is no exception as he shares vivid accounts of his encounters with armed insects from all over the world.
But as amusing as it is, the book is serious science. Part autobiography and part biology, the book covers the why, how, and when of insect stings as well as tidbits about behavior and lifestyle of all the insects he covers.
The last chapter, “Honey Bees and Humans,” explains our love/fear association with honey bees. In this chapter I learned that the main component of honey bee venom is called melittin, a substance composed of 26 amino acids that is found nowhere else in nature. Melittin destroys red blood cells, causes pain, and is toxic to the heart muscle. And that’s just one component; the list of ingredients and how they affect the human body is downright scary, but fascinating too.
A perfect late-summer read
So if you are looking for something to read while wasps and hornets are circling your picnic table, and ants are marching in unbroken lines up the legs of your hive stands, this is the perfect entertainment. And after you get through the science, you can enjoy Schmidt’s wonderful descriptions in the Pain Scale. “Apis mellifera: Burning, corrosive, but you can handle it. A flaming match head lands on your arm and is quenched first with lye and then sulfuric acid.” You get the idea.
The Sting of the Wild by Justin O. Schmidt is available on Amazon in both hardcover and Kindle formats.
Honey Bee Suite
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