4 Animals with the Most Painful Stings

From warrior wasps to stonefish and from bullet ants to tarantula hawk wasps, let’s explore the world of excruciatingly painful animal stings.

Oct 6, 2023By Natasha Elder
animals with most painful stings

There’s no denying that nature is awe-inspiring, and something beautiful can be found behind every corner. Amidst all this beauty lurks a hidden danger – creatures that wield a sting so potent that they can, at best, bring a grown human to their knees and, at worst, send them to their grave. Today’s blog post will explore land, sky, and sea to uncover the 4 animals with the most painful stings in the world.

1. Bullet Ant

bullet ant most painful sting
Image credit: Wikimedia

Did you know that there is a list that defines the most painful stings in the insect world? Well, there is, and this innocent-looking little guy sits right at the top of this list. In fact, the bullet ant was the first insect to ever receive a level 4 (the highest rating) in Justin O. Schmidt’s Schmidt Sting Pain Index and was described as ‘like walking over flaming charcoal with a three-inch nail embedded in your heel’.

Here are some more bullet ant facts for you. The bullet ant is found in the rainforests of South and Central America and is known for having an incredibly painful sting. Wondering where this tiny terror gets its name? Well, the pain associated with being stung by one of these creatures is similar to the pain one feels when being shot by a gun.

A sting from a bullet ant will deliver venom which causes immense pain, massive inflammation, and even temporary paralysis. The bullet ant’s excruciatingly painful sting lasts a day! Thankfully, it doesn’t cause any permanent damage to the person who was unlucky enough to experience its sting.

2. Tarantula Hawk Wasp

tarantula hawk wasp painful stinger blue wasp
Image credit: Wikimedia

Another insect that boasts being a level 4 member of the Schmidt Sting Pain Index is the tarantula hawk wasp. When categorized this way, the sting of the tarantula hawk wasp was described as ‘blinding, fierce, and shockingly electric.’

Located on almost every continent (this is one creature excluded from the list of animals of Antarctica), the tarantula hawk wasp and its extremely long stinger can deliver a sting capable of paralyzing tarantulas. The pain from a tarantula hawk wasp is unrelenting and extreme, but shortlived.

Thankfully, the intense pain associated with a sting from the tarantula hawk wasp only lasts around five minutes. Even more thankfully, tarantula hawk wasps are known to be docile, and it’s out of character for them to sting a human. Phew.

3. Stonefish

stonefish lying ocean sand painful sting
Image credit: Raw Pixel

Now let’s look away from air and land and look to the sea, where you’ll find our next stinger, the stonefish. The stonefish lives in rivers and oceans in the Indo-Pacific, where they love to lie on the ocean floor or riverbed. As you may have guessed by its name, they look just like stones. Their stoney appearance, coupled with the fact that they like to chill on the floor, means that they are often stood on.

Unfortunately for the unsuspecting foot, and the human it’s attached to, accidentally stepping on a stonefish will evoke one of the most painful stings known to man. Stonefish have needle-like dorsal spines on their back, and each spine is full of pale-blue venom. This venom is known to cause intense pain, swelling, tissue damage, and systemic symptoms, including vomiting, hypotension, and problems breathing.

Unlike other creatures mentioned on this list, the stonefish’s sting gets progressively worst. While undoubtedly sore when the skin of the foot is punctured, the sting itself starts as a mild pins and needles feeling which progresses to the point of pain where remaining conscious is no longer possible. Rapid medical attention is required to treat stonefish stings, and, in most cases, recovery is possible in 24 to 48 hours, but in some cases the sting is fatal.

4. Warrior Wasp

warrior wasp protecting nest drumming wasp
Image credit: Wikimedia

The final insect to appear on the Schmidt Sting Pain Index is the warrior wasp. The sting of a warrior wasp was described as ‘Torture. You are chained in the flow of an active volcano. Why did I start this list?’ – thank you for your contribution to science, and therefore, this blog post, Justin O. Schmidt!

The warrior wasp is found all over the Americas and is particularly fond of tropical rainforests. They’re extremely aggressive and will defend their nest against anyone or anything. This wasp is also known as the drumming wasp, due to the noise it makes when defending its nest. If this Jumanji-like drumming doesn’t scare the predator off, the very strong sting a warrior wasp delivers will surely do the trick.

The stinger of a warrior wasp is full of venom that, when released, will cause the blood vessels in the affected area to constrict. Redness, hotness of the skin, welting, and itchiness are just some of the external effects that a sting from the warrior wasp will present. Though it’s not fatal, it is pretty darn painful – only for two hours though.

Natasha Elder
By Natasha Elder

Natasha is a mother, a wife, a writer, and a serial cat owner. Though she is currently in mourning, her heart not ready for another feline family member just yet, she has always lived life with four paws beside her. She loves – you guessed it – cats, as well as creatures of the fluffy, scaly, and finned variety. Natasha longs to meet Sir David Attenborough one day and is passionate about responsible pet ownership