This week: bees! wasps! hornets! yellowjackets! (and other things that sting) with special guest Justin O. Schmidt, research biologist at Southwestern Biological Institute, adjunct faculty at University of Arizona’s department of entymology, author of The Sting of the Wild, and creator of the famous Schmidt Sting Pain Index. Scientific American called Schmidt the "King of Sting." The New York Times dubbed him a “Connoisseur of Pain.” Here’s your college class on stings, with ... if we may ... the "sommelier of sting."
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Welcome to cats cast, a biweekly podcast delivering history, travel guides, arts and culture, outdoor adventures, sustainability news and local interviews from New York's Catskill Mountains and the Hudson Valley. This week, bees, Hornets, yellow jackets, and other stinging things with special guests Justin ocef, mit research biologist at Southwestern biological Institute, adjunct faculty at University of Arizona's department of entomology, author of the sting of the wild and creator of the famous Schmitt sting pain index. I often tell people I say you can view the honeybee is 1/500 of a rattlesnake with wings. So if you get 500 honey bee stings that's about equivalent to a rattlesnake bite, Scientific American called Schmidt, the king of Sting, The New York Times dubbed him connoisseur of pain. Stay tuned for a class on stings with a man who knows them best. This episode is sponsored by the 52 mile Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway, following New York State Route 28. Through the heart of the central Catskills for maps, itineraries and links to area restaurants, shops and accommodations. Visit scenic catskills.com interested to know about a recent paper wasp sting through my sock, which had me screaming, and later itching and swelling for days, I checked Professor Schmidt's pain scale and found that this was only a two out of four. But he politely reassured me, your paper was there actually pretty painful there, as you found out, there were two in some of the really big ones, if you were down in Georgia, or deep south, they have a plus these annual errors, which is a big chocolate covered one, that one's a three, so it hurts even more. And, you know, it could be that some of the paper was hurt more than just the standard, you know, two, it might be a two plus or something like that. But it's too fine of a detail to try to, you know, put that into the pain scale. So it's just closer to a two than a three in general. But that said, like you found out it really does hurt. What is a for feel like you don't want to go there? Well, the worst one is the bullet and which is unfortunately a tropical hand which doesn't get into the us so we don't get to see and appreciate it. But it's a began about 20 millimeters long or four fifths of an inch. And it stings in and as instantaneous just shut you down sort of pain that just throbs and goes on for 12 to 36 hours. And some people report even longer than that. And me usually it's about 12 hours. But I attribute that being shorter than the average. Because I'm an entomologist, I'm paying attention and I get the doggone thing off of me before it really delivers a good potent dose of venom. You know, all these things are dose response. And if you if you get the stinging insect off really quickly before it gets much venom in you while then it's going to hurt last, which is kind of the principle behind when you get stung by a honeybee scrape that Stinger off fast, the faster the better. Because you know, the sooner you get it off, the less it's going to hurt. So your life's work is entomology and it's it's focused on things that sting. This leads me to the term achilleas hymenoptera I hope I'm saying that right. Can you tell me right? Yes. Can you tell me what that means? Yeah, cureat hymenoptera is basically from Latin. And it's a curious means a spear or Stinger, you know, something sharp like a syringe. And so these are actually this syringe hymenoptera. In other words, a stinger is a biological syringe, which they use for injecting, in this case, venom into adversaries or in some cases prey, you know, many of the stinging insects will actually sting their prey, which either paralyzes it or kills it. And then they can handle much better for taking back to their nest and feeding to the young. So it basically just means it is a staying hymenoptera as opposed to a parasitic hymenoptera which also have a tuber. And so at the end of their body, it's an oval positive, which is similar to a stinger, except it doesn't deliver venom it delivers an egg to the tube, and there's some accessory glands to lubricate the way down. You figure of eggs going through a skinny tube, and eggs aren't exactly long as they're, they're more around. They have to stretch and slipped down this long tube so there's lubricating fluids and sometimes they have symbiotic viruses and this kind of thing which help change the immune system of the house, it gets pretty complicated, but, but they don't use them for venom. So the stinging hymenoptera that have adapted to use the tube to sting, how do they deliver their eggs, they come out actually, the base of the sting is a separate opening, that normally it would be an a channel coming from the ovaries right down to the ovipositor of the parasitic loss. But instead of getting into the over positive, which is now become the sting, it has an opening at the base of this thing. So it just comes out there. And that way they they can circumvent having to squeeze this egg to a kind of a nasty tube with all kinds of toxic lytic venom in there, which I can't imagine would be any good for the egg to be subjected to that. And these insects that have adapted to us that Sting, it comes or has evolved from an egg laying mechanism, which means that everything that's ever stung anybody in the insect world is female, is that right? Exactly. Females are the baddies. nails are nice, friendly guys, you know, they're just fuzzy chasing around frolicking in the autumn mist and things of that sort. They, they have no ability to sting. So they're quite harmless. Unfortunately, probably for a non entomologist, no easy way to determine by sight what a female versus a male bee or wasp looks like? Well, if you grab it, you'll find out. It's a female. But that's not the recommended way of finding out. Yeah, it's pretty hard to tell there. There's subtle differences, like many of them will have 12 and 10, or segments on their antennae or feelers on their head for the females, and 13 for the males, and you say well, I was gonna count that or not I most of us don't. And there's sometimes other differences. paper was actually one of the ones that you can often tell the difference, that the males, we usually have a bright white face or a yellow face, whereas the workers, the females will have usually a darker face. It's presumably their to signal to the other was not to signal to us because you know, we're sort of irrelevant to the males. But to signal them that I'm a male, so don't beat me up, because there's a lot of antagonism and posturing and dominance hierarchy rituals going on, among the workers and the females in the colony. And since males are kind of left out, you know, they're irrelevant. If they have a white face, then there's no real need to waste your time, you know, beating up on them. Well, I never saw her face the one that that stung me, I just saw her back end as she left with those dangling legs. But obviously, it was a female. And you say that wasps can choose the sex of their babies pretty much on the spot. How does that work? Yeah, that's one of the fascinating things about about hymenoptera. There's several other groups of animals disparately spread throughout the world and the taxonomy of animals. But they have a system where if it's a diploid, like you and me, we get half our genetic chromosomes from our father and half from our mothers, we get the set of 23 from each parent. And that makes us in the case of hymenoptera. If you haven't set from both the male and the female, he turned out being a female individual, better the mother did not mate or, or decided that oh, this provision I have this food that I have for the offspring is too little for making a female does in most solitary was the females are bigger, need more nutrition. And she says Well, I won't fertilize the egg and that is clever little system, they store the sperm in a sperm or theaker, the sperm will go down on a long tube. And there's a sphincter they're pretty much just like we have a sphincter when we have to go the bathroom that we don't just, you know, urinate in our pants all the time, we have an ability to let it go or not let it go. And they have the same type of mechanism for this sperm. And so she decides, oh, I want to make a male. For example, in the honeybees, they want to make a male drone honeybee going out during the mating season and finding other queens. So pinch that off and just lay the egg without getting it fertilized. And so then with one set of chromosomes, it becomes a male. So until it becomes female one it becomes a male. And the female can choose which one she wants to do, which is really kind of cool. That's amazing. And so she has, I guess a lifelong supply of sperm that she rations as needed. Exactly. In fact, with fire ants, it's been estimated that they use about three to five, maybe seven sperm per fertilized egg at most and so they can really be quite fun. Google and releasing the sperm because as you can imagine, if you're a fire and you're fairly small and you're Queen, you have a colony of 50 to 300,000 ants that are needing to be replaced at least once a year because they you know, kind of die of old age wear out that sort of thing. You got to live for five to seven or eight years, you have to be awfully generous with your sperm are you going to run out, if you've run out, that's the end of the colony kind of dies. And it's the same thing with honeybees, which is one of the reasons that beekeepers recommend changing the queen, at most, at the very minimum every two years. Because Yeah, they'll keep laying eggs, third, and fourth, and sometimes a fifth year. But by the time you're getting those multiple years, you're basically getting drone producing queens that they're laying a whole lot of males which don't do any work or anything, just eat up food. That doesn't make any honey for the beekeepers, you want to get rid of the Queen before she starts running out of her sperm for making workers. So let's talk about honey bees. The sting scale or index that you created is anchored to the sting of a honeybee which you put i think is at a two. And so everything is real in relation to that. But you say that honey bee venom is some of the most toxic venom of any stinging insect. How can that be? Because you've also said that you've been stung close to 1000 times by honey bees. So why don't why am I talking to you right now. Alright, it has to do with the dose of a honeybee was 1000 times bigger, I probably wouldn't be talking with you. It's what I often tell people I say you can view the honeybee is one 500 of a rattlesnake with wings. And so if you get 500 honey bee stings, that's about equivalent to a rattlesnake bite. rattlesnake being obviously much bigger is a medically important situation when you get bitten by a rattlesnake. Most people don't die of a rattlesnake. So the 500 bee stings also don't kill most people. But if you get double that 1000 or triple that 1500, then you're in serious risk of the same thing. It's like getting bitten by three different rattlesnakes all the same time. You know, while you're in serious trouble, you might not make it. But fortunately, honeybees is small enough that, you know, if you're a little adversary, for example, beekeepers, in particular in your area in the Catskills and in the northeast in any of the cooler climates of the world. They have a lot of trouble in the winter, with mice coming into their colony. The mouse is of course warm blooded and very active. And so they can outmaneuver the bees, which are kind of numbed in cold. And so they cause a lot of trouble and damage in the hive. But bees can, when it warms up enough, they'll attack the mouse. in as little as about four or five stings, we actually kill the mouse because you know, mice are little. So if you crawl in yourself, you know, it's gonna take 1500 to do you and get you out of the colony but a mouse it only takes four or five, just matter of size. And it seems like most or many stinging insects can strike again and again. But a honeybee can only do it once right, it actually detaches and implants its entire stinging apparatus. Can you explain what happens there? Yeah, that's right, the honeybees. And actually, they aren't the only insects in the world. They're just the only ones that we see most of the time. Because there are our I am in Arizona, we have some harvester ants, which are fairly big, reddish ants. And they can also leave their Stinger in you. If you go into the tropics, like Brazil or Colombia or Panama, you know, these warmer areas, there's about a dozen different kinds of wasps that also do that. So what's going on here is that often when a insect stings you, it's very superficial sting because you feel the pain and you take action to get rid of this thing, insect, you karate chop it or brush it off or whatever. It takes some period of time, probably half a minute or so to really get a good solid dose of most of the venom into the skin of the animal being stung or the person being stung. So if you're a paper was like a vetted, if you'd let it just hang on to your to your sock for 30 seconds. You probably heard even more than you did as it was but the honeybee what it does is it loses its sting. So even if you remove the bee which you know often happens, you don't realize all this little tiny thing you don't even see it. That's the stinger and it's busy working away. Left behind because you got rid of the beep problem solved wrong problem not solved this thing here is still there. But most animals would know that. And I think in many cases, people don't observe this thing or either can't get it out. So then it will stay there for a couple of minutes. And rather than delivering, say 10 or 15% of the venom that the sing sack has, it'll deliver about 80 or 90%, almost all of it will go in. And so that way, he plant one Sting, and you get a really good Whammy and it's worth sacrificing one beat out of you know, 2030 50,000 bees, what's the loss of one bee it's pretty trivial loss to the colony. So it's well worth getting the extra benefit of the of getting all the venom in there sacrificial they they will lose their Stinger and kill themselves basically to protect the the the overall community. exactly are they actually it's kind of maybe more interesting that it's sort of like at this point. Now the bee knows that it has a finite time to live maybe a couple hours, maybe it's cooler weather, it can make most of a day, but it's basically past tense. So what do you do if you have nothing else to do? You just harass the bejesus out of the target. You know, say you're getting stung with the bee a slice of sting or baizen try to attack your eyes grab onto your eyelash, your eyebrows or view. If you have a mustache or a beard, you know, grab on a hairs and pull on him and buzz ferociously just distract you, which does couple of things. It first intimidates you it's very intimidating having this be eyeball to eyeball, you know, a couple inches away from your chewing on your eyelash. In Second of all, it's distracting you so that her sisters who still have a stink and give you another sting or two or 10 or whatever number takes to get you out of the threatening area of the hive. What kills the bee. Now basically, I think it's just the same as if, you know, we got eviscerated you, you lose your in their case, they basically dry out, because they have no longer they have no got their whole gut comes out with them. So it's like pulling your stomach and everything out. You have this wound and then you're you're drying it, you can't drink any water rehydrate to keep short term survival. And of course, in our case, you know, we're going to bleed to death, and we're going to be dead in a couple of minutes. But the baby will live long enough until it runs out of energy to power the wings for flying. Or until it dries out. And if it's flying, he probably can't do that more than five or 10, maybe 20 minutes at most, depending on you know how, how much food it had before it. You know lost its Stinger? Do you think she knows? Do you think she knows that her minutes are numbered once she delivers that sting? Yeah, that's that's one of the interesting questions is science, you know, we like to be stuffy in science and say, Wow, you know, insects and animals don't think so, you know, they're just robotic, or, you know, whatever. But the end result is as if she were thinking, we can argue whether she's actually thinking or not, but she clearly knows and behaves as if she were thinking and clearly as if she knows that her her time is limited, because shifts into a whole new behavior. You could argue that, you know, while it's just the switch in the brain, which goes from, you know, normal behavior to all of a sudden Kamikaze behavior, you know, well, I'm not going to argue about the fine points of, you know what the mechanism is. But clearly the bee is behaving as if, as if she knows that this is the end of it, and that she's, you know, got a limited lifespan left and about all she can do at this point, is try to make the best for protecting her sisters and brothers back in the colony. And doing that by whatever time she has left of being useful and harassing the threatening agent. Just more generally speaking with all these many insects that that have the ability to sting. Why do they sting? It seems like kind of common sense. But can you put it into words for us? It basically what they're doing is they're protecting the home front. It's kind of a situation if you have just a small insect say a mud dauber wasp, which most people are familiar with, they made the clouds and mud on the walls, around your house or your shed that kind of thing. They're just one little skinny was there not enough good protein and nutrition to be worth bothering with something big like most birds are, or lizards or mammals aren't going to waste the energy to try to eat them because they takes more energy to catch the darn thing then you get out of eating and so it's not worth attacking it. But with the stinging insects, like the paper was in the honeybees and many of the ants that have big colonies, it's all of a sudden a situation where now rather than the nutrition of one simple small insects, yeah, hundreds or 1000s of in one place. And if you're a honeybee colony, you get the added benefit that not only do you get lots of mature you know workers, but also immature in the you know, the grubs, which you just little packs of wonderful juicy protein and fat. Plus, you get this yummy honey. So therefore, it's worth the effort of something bigger to go and take the risks and do the energetic hassling to get this reward. So the what the sting does is that provides a way to deter this enthusiasm of the predator that your enthusiasm when you get stung in the tip of your nose when you're sticking your nose into a honeybee colony, thinking Oh, good, I'm going to slurp up some of this nice, yummy honey, we pretty quickly get the idea. Um, no, I don't think I want to do that. And the sting is the idea provider for doing for chasing your way. Now you say that there are some animals who either don't care or are unaffected. raccoons, skunks, bears, you said that they will enjoy a good Yellow Jacket nest, are they immune to the sting are just willing to deal with it for a good meal? We don't really know I think they're just willing to deal with it. And one of the examples that you get from the some of the older literature, particularly in Africa, there's this thing called a rod tail or honey badger. It's basically think of a Wolverine in the tropics. It's a rather large member of the weasel family. And they're called honey badgers. Because what they do is they will destroy they're very strong like a Wolverine, they can tear open a nest or even a tree, they can break the tree apart, get the nest and need the honey, they seem to know how many stings they can take, because they'll take several 100 stings, then they usually back away at that point. But every so often one of them gets a little bit too enthusiastic, and it can actually be killed. So that suggests that they are not immune to it. You know, it's one of these things that I wanted to do years ago when I had contacts in South Africa where there were honey badgers that were causing beekeepers trouble attacking hives and tipping them over and eating the bees and just generally being unliked. I kept saying, Can somebody catch one of these darn things alive for me, take it to a veterinarian or doctor or somebody get a bunch of blood out of this thing, you know, just take a blood sample and keep that frozen send it to me because if they did that, then I could test that. In fact, we did that with. It turns out we have one example which we discovered back in the mid 1980s. We have these harvest strands I briefly mentioned early on that are eaten only by horned lizards, horny toads is sometimes called there a big fat lizard that is so slow and such they can't catch much of anything other than harvest strands. And again, it's hundreds of them at a time. And we said well, how does it do that these harvest ants are really, really toxic, you know, one single killer mouse and you know How come these, these lizards are eating hundreds of them. And it turns out, they do have an immunity in their blood. They are 1000 times more resistant than you know we are a mouse or something because they neutralize the toxin and they add venom. So I could test the same thing for honey badgers, which would be the ideal animal to do that with because they kind of make their living large part on eating honeybees and get a lot of stings. So we don't really know they may or may not be resistant, but they can certainly be killed. So that suggests to me that if they are resistant and it's only partially resistant. And I was really interested to learn that all of these insects or groups of insects, bees versus wasps or types of Hornets, they manufacture different types of venom, and that sting pain doesn't necessarily equate to the level of toxicity. Yeah, it's kind of interesting that all of them if you have a big colony bu ants, bees, wasps, you know, whatever you are, if you're a big colony, yeah, the common problem that there's a bonanza of nutrition, just waiting anybody who can overcome your defenses and eat you eat all of you. And so you have the common problem. How do you defend yourself against these kinds of attacks. The best solution most immediate solution in most cases is to Really make it heard. And so there's severe selection pressure on each individual lineage. And they're often quite distantly related. So they're not, you know, really close relatives. Each lineage is getting the same pressure, how does our venom get painful, so that we can deter predators. And so they resolve the solution is to be painful. But how you get there varies depending on who you are, you know, which, which group of insects you are. And so they all kind of converge on the same solution, because that's while the best solution, but they get there by whatever idiosyncratic route, that evolution takes them on to get them there. And the chemical composition is totally different in some cases. So you say that wasps have a histamine that, you know, creates swelling and itching and a lot of people, but that's not necessarily the case for bald faced Hornets. Yeah, most Hornets and wasps are, they are somewhat closely related, they're all in the same same sub family. Actually, the thing that really causes the pain in them is not not so much the histamine. But these wasp kinds and whilst kinds of best thought of is something like in our bodies, we have something called Brady kind and, and it's a nine amino acids short little peptide that causes extreme hard pain and accelerated heart activity. So it's, so to speak, a hormone or mediator of our of our body activities. And so what the wasp has done is taken this basic structure, and added a few more amino acids 1618 total rather than nine. And they these extra acids, amino acids, what they do is they stabilize it. Key Point is Brady kind and breaks down very, very quickly in the body. So you stabilize it a little bit, and then inject that to the sting. And it causes pain and really nasty pain. That's why you're hooping and howling and jumping around when they sting you, you know, through your soccer and your elbow, hopefully not on the tip of your nose. And that's what causes the pain in them. Whereas melatonin in the honeybee is an entirely different peptide, it's 26 amino acids. And it tends to be almost like a super detergent, it just started starts breaking up cell membranes, and causing extreme pain. It's also a cardio toxin. So it's direct poisoning to the heart. It's quite a different molecule. We don't know most ants what the pain inducing compound is, we we do know the bullet and it's called Pinera toxin, which is a, again an entirely different peptide, but it causes extreme pain. So their their chemistry is they're all different, but their end results are always the same. And it's not just level of pain. So if we go back to your string index, you've assigned a number somewhere between zero and four for each of the strings you've gotten over the years, from many different species. But in addition to the number, there's a really pretty interesting description, almost like you're describing a meal or a nice bottle of wine. So the pain, while the level may be the same, it could be different, just like a headache is different from a cut, or a burn. Oh, exactly. The reason I did that is human beings aren't really computers, computers like numbers. And often you're gonna accuse us as scientists, we like numbers. I like numbers, I admit that. And I can use numbers 0123 and four, to plug into various mathematical systems to test the hypothesis that I'm interested in, see whether it's supported by the by the data, the numbers, most people look at that and yawn, you know, that doesn't really relate we we don't get up close and Fuzzy Wuzzy with numbers. You know, we use music, we use dance, we use poetry, we these pros, you know, song, you know, all of this is the way we communicate by language. It's something that is our natural way of communicating and then getting an understanding of what is really the situation rather than number. And so that's why we put the descriptions on the kind of given an emotional, I can understand that that makes sense. But Gosh, I don't want to go there. Alright, it's not so bad. You know, that's okay. I can put up with that. So that was where the origin is. It's simply a second mode of communication. That in general, the more different systems you have for communicating, the better your chance of getting through the third one that we had, which was kind of visual which I think is kind of Fun is to have that sliding bar where you have the ball showing how intense from really painful hot one and do nothing on the other end. And you can see the ball, where it's positioned on that scale and say you can kind of get a visual idea. Oh, it's up near the high and I don't think I want to go there. Yeah, it's a low end, you know, what the heck, it's not gonna chase me away from my barbecue grill, but I'm planning for this Saturday, so we'll just ignore that one. Have you ever been stung by something that you thought, oh, maybe four isn't a big enough number for this scale? Not really, that no insects. Now there are some other corporates that probably would rate higher. I only work on on a queue at hymenoptera. So just the group is seeing ants, wasps and bees. But there are a lot of other things out there and the Catskills in areas of that sort. You will have these giant toe biting bugs, both tomato and bugs. They're about two or so inches long and they live in. Whoa, wait a second to find out where these giant toe biting bugs live in the Catskills. Stay tuned. I know it's a cheap cliffhanger. But first, this quick message from our sponsor, the Catskill center. Founded in 1969. The Catskill center is committed to the protection and preservation of the environmental, cultural, and economic resources of the Catskills with a belief that the vitality and prosperity of the Catskills depends on wise stewardship of our natural resources, thriving local communities and robust collaboration with others. Their work includes the Catskills Visitor Center, to public land preserves, advocacy for the Catskills and Albany, regional collaboration, natural resource protection and more. Learn more about the Catskill center and become a member to support their work in the Catskills by visiting Catskill center.org. Now, what was he saying about those toe biting bugs, about two or so inches long, and they live in the water and they eat things like fish and frogs. And I'm told I haven't been bitten by one, but if they bite you, that really hurts is what people say. So you have things like that. Now out here we have giant centipedes, which can be six inches long, I've known a number of people been bitten by them, and they throbbing hurt for, you know, sometimes a day or so. And they probably would also be a four, if you were making comparison, again, I haven't been bitten by them, I don't make a habit of trying to get bitten by these things. And then of course, you have the medically important ones, which we don't want to go there, you know, you could get bitten by a black widow. And from everything you read in the literature, that would certainly be more than a four. But then the there's a couple of kinds of pain, I just deal with the acute pain, which is what to give you a moment of the sting for maybe then media time after that 510 minutes, maybe half an hour, or whenever that initial pain finally recedes, then there's the delayed pain, which he experienced with a paper was sticking to your ankle, the immediate burning would go away after five or 10 minutes in most cases. But then delayed hours later, you start getting swelling, itching and burning kind of body's reaction to the pain. And that would be what the Black Widow would have he you have this muscle contractions, we have extreme stomach pain, you know, muscles are just spasming. These sorts of things. But the actual bite to the blackwidow itself is fairly more or less painless. And so I I guess you could say some of the things like vipers, rattlesnakes, fertile lands is down in the world tropics, Russell's Viper, some of these things in the old world, if you get bitten by one of those, that's immediate pain, which is continuous from the moment of bite through, you know, hospital treatment, and for hours, sometimes, you know, days later. So those would obviously be be different. But you don't want to go there. I mean, that's like threatening at you just don't, you know, want to examine that you don't even really want to think about doing something like that. But otherwise, probably the highest that you have in the northeast, in general, would be twos and those would be the paper wasps or honey bees. When did you develop this scale? And how did it come about? I it was a long process I I was a chemist before I changed entomology. And so I became what's called a chemical ecologist, which means you play chemical techniques to try to understand the behavior and biology of In my case, insects. So I was thinking well by this chemical bill I want to study some kind of an insect system that has chemicals related to it. And I get study flies Well, there's nothing chemically related there except how they just food, which was more biochemistry rather than what I was doing chemistry anyway simpler molecules. Well, then they can be the obvious example stinging insects. they inject something into you, and it hurts and it's toxic, that suggest chemicals. Right? Okay, let's go. So I started in Georgia, which is got a lot more stinging insects, and you say, doing a northeast. And I was working on this, this harvest strand, which goes up about as far as North Carolina. And they were known in the literature, the naturalist and the taxonomist in the biologies is that, wow, you get stung by one of these, these, they really hurt. And not only do they hurt, they caused the hairs on the part of your body say your arm, they get stung to stand up, right like a frightened dog, and they make you sweat. So both of those chemists, you say, Aha, neurotransmitters, something is affecting neuromuscular system is something affecting the Andrew consistent, that's got to be a chemical. So I started working on those. And I was working on basically just the chemistry of what was in the venom. And wow, process of collecting, he gets out Jeezy's things really hurt. And I, you know, I grew up in Central Pennsylvania. So I knew all of our bumblebees and yellow jackets and bald faced Hornets and honey bees and sweat bees, and I missed one or two, probably carpenter ants, which snip a little bit, I've been stung by all of these things. And none of them hurt anywhere near as much, nor did they feel the same, they felt qualitatively quite different from the harvest stream. So I just kind of record that in the back of my mind and did some of the good chemistry honor and found out harvest students are incredibly complex in terms of the chemistry of the bat. And so then the next question was, why is this unique? Is this or is this most insects, like harvest students, and we just hadn't really looked at them, we'd only really looked at yellow jackets and honey bees, mostly work done by the Germans and 50 years ago or so. And so we knew about those two. But what about all these other, you know, hundreds of different types of stinging insects? So I went on a survey to try to see if the chemistry of those was similar or different. In other words, how unique How exciting is a harvest random venom, compared to the, quote, normal or ordinary, you know, routine of stinging insects. Well, the process I started getting stung by these things, usually accidentally, and I record just in my notes, you know, Misery likes, get something useful out of their misery. So I just record, you know, how much it hurt just kind of just for conversation, or I hadn't really formulated any particular idea at that point I just recorded, then I came in 1983, to writing a paper on the destruction of blood systems by stinging insects, in other words, breaking up your red blood cells, which if you break up enough of them, you're going to become anemic and your kidneys are going to get clogged, and you're going to basically suffer immensely, maybe even die. So I see this might be one of the chemical ways that phantoms work is by breaking up red blood cells. And so just as a incidental along with that, I said, well, let's see, we correlate pain, with ability to break a blood cells. So I wrote this in a fairly new journal of pharmacology, you know, not exactly entomology, not exactly normal biology, but more medical, pharmacological journal. And the answer was, they didn't seem to correlate. But in order to do this, I had to generate the sting pain scale of you know, the zero to four. And I found out No, they weren't correlated with that was basically the genesis of it. At that point, then I said, I have two things to worry about. One is the toxicity of the Venom's. I'm studying and the other is how much they hurt. And how we can use these two sets of data to understand the system much better. So that was pretty much you know, how it just kind of is my wife says the blind cat stumbled into the dead mouth. I just kind of serendipity stumbled into the idea of a pain scale is being a scientifically useful tool. And you said usually accidentally Which, which leads me to believe that maybe curiosity got the best of you and you allowed yourself to be stung by more than a few insects? Well, usually wasn't curiosity was the public railing at me. Schmidt Wow. How much is this one hurt? I so I don't know. I haven't been stung by Why not? Wow. Because they don't sting readily. Why not? Why? Yeah, we don't believe we think you're just a coward. Okay, and after the fourth or fifth time, I hear this, giving scientific presentations and all. It turns out the Texans were particularly frightened of mud dauber wasps, the ones that big, long, skinny things about an inch and a half long and make the dirt clods on your walls. Yeah, pretty much around the world. So it's a universal insect. And Texans for some reason, or at least some Texans seem to be petrified of these things. And, I mean, they are scary, they're long and skinny, and kind of out of worldly looking things. And you look at him as a gosh, you know, I think must be kind of pretty, pretty damaging or scary. But I said, well, they're solitary insects, they, you know, just poor single mamas out there catching spiders and staying and paralyzing them and quarantine them in her mud nest a feeder a young and you know, who wants to bother eating this tiny little skinny runty thing, which doesn't have much nutrition. And if you try to eat here, young with all the spiders, you have to get a mouthful of mud, you know, yuck, that's not much fun either. And so I predicted that they'd have very little pain because they basically have no need for you know, nothing's gonna really attack them. And so I finally one day because of the social pressure, over many years, went to a place where I knew there were a bunch of them by a stock tank where they were collecting their mud pallets for making their nest. And I grabbed them and I kept applying them to my arm. The first two were kind of duds, I couldn't even get him to sting me. Third one, finally, come on, please sting me Darren. And we had just do it so I can get this over with. And she finally did sting man. And like I said, it was underwhelming and say the very least it was had most about a one. So then that was intentional sting. And pretty much all of the things that I've been stung by intentionally were in that category, they were solitary wasps or solitary bees, or something that doesn't readily stink. And in all cases, they were predicted, based on biology to not hurt very much. There was possibly one exception, which was the giant ant, the dino panara, giganti. It's the world's largest and it's 25 millimeters long or about an inch long. And I call them a gentle giant, you can have him walk on you, they don't see they totally unaggressive they live in small colonies have are anywhere from eight individuals up to maybe 50 or 60. So they're small colonies of big ants, they got confused by some of the early naturalist or medical people who are notoriously poor at being able to identify insects in particular. And they were blaming them on the bullet and is saying, you know, the giant ant was actually confused as a boy and really hurt. And I said, Now, I'd never known anybody to get stung by them. I collaborate for years with a researcher down in Brazil, he'd never been stung on him. He's written several papers on them. I'd written quite extensively on none of us had ever been stung. Yet there was this, this rumor out there, they really hurt. So I said, Well, okay, I guess we're gonna have to make this thing sting me. So I grabbed one and made sting me. And it was a to basically, so that was a worst self stain that I got, which is considerably less than a form of bullying. And that was only when I really made it sting me. You know, otherwise, you can crawl on Yeah, I've got pictures of myself and pictures of my professor when I was down there with him, crawling on us. And yeah, they're completely harmless. So you're not going to get stung by them unless you maybe sit on one or you know, something like that is the bullet and your worst sting? Oh, yeah, absolutely. What was the word that came out of your mouth when that happened? Probably some expletives that I've forgotten long since. Usually, that's what you do. I'm, I'm a great fan of expletives when you get stung. And people say, well, that's not very scientific. And it's not very, you know, gentlemen, the like, while when you're out in the field, you're not probably being in gentlemen anyway. And when you're in pain, anything that will reduce the pain is considered, at least in my mind, beneficial. So as long as you're rolling around swearing, you know, that's taking a year a lot of mental energy to do that, that mental energy can't be focused now on how much it hurts. So you're distracting. It's kind of a distraction away from the pain. So I'm all for good that I'm on the right track with the few things that I've gotten in my lifetime. Do you have a current count on the number of different species that have stung you over the years? Yeah, we're up to about 84 right now. So I've added one since the book that was a self sting as well it was I was in Florida, noses introduced by honeybee sighs orchid be there the beautiful BG price in some nature shows that, in particular, in Costa Rica, they'll track them down and they're absolutely gorgeous. they pollinate orchids. And, and one of the scientists who worked on repeated that he once grabbed a quote, male by mistake and female and it really hurt them. So I thought, hmm, it's kind of interesting. solitary B. Yes, it's pretty big. You know, they're about Bumblebee size, sometimes even bigger. So it's a big individual. But again, they're solitary. So, you know, they shouldn't have any real threat of needing particularly potent venom. But then I got this report of how much they hurt. So I said, Well, we've got two different opinions here. One is my theoretical prediction. The other is an actual, you know, kind of a testimony of a sword. And so an anecdote. And so I thought, well, the fellow down in Florida was working on this introduce spaces. It's a very small Oregon bi, I emphasize that because there's one of the really big whoppers it might hurt a little bit more. But I grabbed it and made it sting me. And I forget what it was, I think it was about a one, maybe one and a half, I'd have to look in my notes. It wasn't anything particularly surprising. So I guess if somebody finds a big fat, juicy one from Panama or something like that, that's a female. I'll have to get stung by that and see whether it rises to a two or or perhaps even a three. But my prediction is it probably wouldn't. I'm guessing there's no cumulative effects. Considering the number of stings you've had over the years. Not that we know of. In fact, one of the reputations among beekeepers is the beekeepers are cantankerous and live forever, you know, they, you often see beekeepers in the 90s or give up beekeeping in late 80s, early 90s some of them were loved to 100 and you never hear a beekeepers, you know, dying. Wow, you know, we're all dropping off the 50s and 60s, you don't hear of that. They're all pretty long lived. And beekeepers are getting stung for many, many years, and often they'll get stung every time they go out. One to 10 or 20 times and I was with one beekeeper here, you know, short sleeves, and I think he had a veil. Usually dude, because you don't like to get stung around your eyes. A swelling is kind of a nuisance. And he had like 50 bees that attacked his left forearm. He just wiped them all off and said, Oh, what a pity I just killed 50 bees and merrily on word and he was more concerned about the bees than himself. And he just that's that's beekeepers for you. Many of them also say that they they help prevent their getting stiffen joints from arthritis and you know, that sort of thing. So, they argue that stings are actually beneficial rather than deleterious. Well, there is a medicinal or medicinal qualities to be venom, right? Oh yeah, as long as history has been recorded, there's been a therapy where people use bee stings are in the case in New World, there were no honey bees, they're an old world species. So in the case of the New World, they would use wasp stings or ant stings or something of that sort something in stung and heard that was a key they want the and heard and they've used those for various treatments of injuries or wounds or stiffness or that sort of thing. I wish we'd had some good anthropologist or good primatologist who could find and document whether, you know the great apes, chimps, bonobos, gorillas, you know, whatnot rang attends one of our close relatives actually uses Steen sex in themselves to self medicate. We know that they will eat certain leaves and this kind of thing too, for medicinal purposes. I think it would just be absolutely fascinating if we could get an example of the Maxi using stings for their own health If so, that would show us this has gone back for a while millions of years. Now. If you don't want to get stung there are Signs You say that we can look for or perhaps listen for. That may be happening just prior to the event. Yeah, often I tell people, make sure the wax is out of your ears and you're tuned into your ears. Listen, you'll hear a buzzing or something of that sort. Typically, what's going to get you in this situation least in the northeast are going to be yellow jackets going on in about October. And they they nest in the ground or the base of trees, often in yards, and they'll be buzzing. And so you'll often hear them that'll reduce some of the incidents, not always, the other thing I tell people to do is on a nice, sunny day, go and walk around your yard before you mow it, preferably not after you mark is too late at that point. And just look around the edges, especially eager tones, where the the grass joins up against the base of a tree or shrub or edge of a fence or something of that sort. Those are typically areas where Yellowjackets will have their nest. And as you're walking around, try to look for see if you see a flash of light that's going on a straight line, that's a B line or wasp line. In this case, if you see one, stop where you are, and watch or back up a little bit if you're really close to it. And just watch and see if you see another one. Oh, and there's a third one. Oh, it triangulate and look at where that flash is going. You know, usually find the nest. And so then once you've found the nest course, again, you stay at a distance from it. And you mark where it is in your mind and make sure you don't mow there. Or if you're insisting that you want a nice neat yard or neighbors are complaining that you're an eyesore in a community get that yard mowed, you know something of that sort of you have to deal with that, then you can come back at at night with red light. The Avenger and sex can't see red, most of them can't certainly wasps can come back with a red headlamp and you can get those in any sporting store they'll have. And then you can come in with this wasp, spray the aerosol like spray like can you get any supermarket or hardware store and just stick the nozzle basically down the entrance preferably in well in the darkness, you know, midnight or something of that sort. And just empty the can into them. That'll that'll take care of them. The one thing I might mention, while you're doing this, hold your breath. Because breath is how they chemically recognize you they they will go up the stream of your your hot smelly breath from breathing. And therefore you get stung on the nose, your eyes or something. If there's a rogue individual that managed to escape your attempt to get rid of them. If you're holding your breath, it's kind of like closing your eyes and trying to see danger proceed, he can't see it. So you're basically shutting off their nose, their ability to smell, so they have a lot harder time finding you. And I guess the last caveat you need to add is don't do this if you're allergic da No, no, don't do it. hire somebody to do it or get some nice, strong, robust teenager that you know wants to have an adventure and do something. get stung once or twice that just makes a good story. If you're not allergic and they're not necessarily nesting in a place, that's going to be a problem. What is the benefit of of these creatures in the in the ecosystem? Are they more of a benefit than a detriment? As far as we're concerned? Absolutely. Social wasps are in general beneficial. Take the paper loss is one example. They eat caterpillars. That's the only thing they eat is just caterpillars. We know caterpillars are what messes up a lot of crops and vegetables in your garden and that sort of thing. Because caterpillars are basically eating machines and that's what the paper was to eat is caterpillars. So they're actually quite beneficial. And so I tell people to leave them alone if at all possible. And as far as yellow jackets say they flies and biting insects, you know horse flies or or house flies, you know, that sort of thing, as well as caterpillars and some other soft bodied things. In fact, there was a an anecdote from British Isles. Oh 150 years ago or so. They eliminated all the wasps as they call them in England, near the yellow jackets. And the next year they had this plague of flies with Just driving everybody crazy, ne attributed to the fact that they eliminated all the yellow jackets that are primarily feeding on the flies around barns and animals and that kind of thing. And in fact, one of the things that you can do with students, which is quite fascinating, is watching bald faced Hornets. And they will pounce on a fly that sitting near a barn wall or something like that. He can see them pouncing, they often find something like a the head of a nail, which is holding the board into the side of the wall. And it's kind of looks like rad fly shaving or pounce on the nail, oops, that's not a fly. That's not very tasty. And they actually will learn from that, oh, that particular fly is not a fly, and they won't pounce on it repeatedly. But they might pounce on another nail. And you can watch them doing this. And it's kind of interesting. So bald faced Hornets are actually quite beneficial as well. One last question for you. It seems they've they've come to the west coast. So we may be safe in the Catskills for now. But murder Hornets are they coming or media hype? I think it's mostly just media hype and that kind of thing. They're, they're actually quite present in Japan, where people actually admire them, they're not expecting any big problem with the giant Asian Hornets in this country for a couple of reasons. The main reason is, they're so big and so such small colonies with so low reproduction, that we're gonna eradicate them all, we'll just make it as a kind of a cottage industry of getting a whole neighborhood look out for these things. And when you find them, you Beeline them, you can set little, like the Japanese will put a little ribbons around their waist and follow the ribbons back to the call and then you can destroy the colony. Basically, I think they'll just be manually destroyed all the colonies before they can really get established. Now if they did get really established where you had hundreds of 1000s of them in around the Pacific Northwest of British Columbia and Washington and that sort of thing. It's conceivable that they could expand to forested areas of the rest of the West would to be mostly Northwest. They're not going to make a desert areas. One of the big worries would be if that happened, may many years down the road. You get hibernating queens, which common RVs and trailers, you know, these sorts of things from New York and Pennsylvania wanting to go out and see Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, you know, whatever, Olympic Peninsula and getting some of these things back to the east, where they would probably do actually quite well. And in the eastern forests, you know, would probably get into New York, maybe a little further north. But I'd say that's an extremely long shot. And probability of that happening is pretty minimal. And if we have to tie ribbons on their waists like the Japanese do, that seems like another good job for the local high school kids. Exactly. I don't see why our kids would be any less coordinated, get the right. enthusiasm and attitude. Well, it's been a real pleasure speaking with you, Professor Schmidt, I enjoyed your book and thank you for personally, getting stung by all of these different species so that we can put our own things into perspective. Well, it's been my pleasure, I'm glad we got a chance to chat. Justin Oh Schmidt's pain scale for stinging insects can be found in the appendix of his book, the sting of the wild, with rankings from zero to four, and colorful descriptions like sweat bees, pain level one, light and ephemeral, almost fruity. tiny spark has singed a single hair on your arm to see where your stings rank and to learn more, check out Justin ocean, it's the sting of the wild cats cast is a biweekly production of silver hollow audio, subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, and we'll see you again in two weeks. I'm Brett Barry. Thanks for listening.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai