Mother Nature's Kings of Pain

Certain members of the animal kingdom have a talent for torture, as those of us who have been unlucky enough to experience it can attest.

Maybe you're swimming at the beach, hiking in the wilderness, or just cleaning out your basement — suddenly you're on fire, dancing or doubled over, staring at an almost invisible wound and wondering how something so small could hurt so horribly.

We have compiled a Top 10 list (in no particular order) of some of the most excruciating stings and bites nature has on offer. Some are potentially deadly, some are not. All are absolutely worth avoiding.

Bullet Ant

These inch-long insects are named after their sting; the pain is likened to being shot. Most scientists claim the creature has the most excruciating sting of all insects.

"I have had some of the most painful experiences I've ever had from bullet ant stings," said Randy Morgan, curator of invertebrates, reptiles and amphibians at the Cincinnati Zoo. "For two or three hours, it felt like people had just hauled off and whacked me with a baseball bat. It's a deep, aching pain."

The bullet ant sting scores highest on the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, a rating created by entomologist Justin Schmidt, director of the Southwestern Biological Institute, which compares the ouch factors of different insects.

How does he know how much these insects' stings hurt? He's willingly endured each of them himself.

Schmidt's rating gives a poetic description of the bullet ant's sting: "Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a three-inch rusty nail in your heel."

An indigenous tribe in the South America (the bullet ant's home territory) requires their young men to pass a harrowing trial with bullet ants — the boys must wear special mitts that have been lined with hundreds of the angry insects. Not only must the youths endure the stinging treatment for 10 minutes at a time, they must repeat the process 20 times over again.

Luckily for them, as painful as the sting is, it does no permanent damage.

Box Jellyfish

These diaphanous sea creatures are the bane of tropical beaches. Considered to be one of the more dangerous critters in the animal kingdom, their tentacles contain extremely powerful venom that can kill humans.

Along with the poison comes extraordinary, burning pain. The creature's tentacles discharge tiny needles into the victim's skin; each needle contains a cocktail of pain-inducing ingredients that make it "the most painful sting. There is no question about it," according to Dr. Joseph Burnett, past chairman of dermatology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. "The bullet ant is nothing compared to this."

What makes the animal so painfully effective are the 10-foot-long, stinging tentacles. Unfortunate swimmers can become draped and entangled in these drifting strands, and the intense doses of venom can induce shock and eventual drowning.

While it may seem like nothing but an instrument of torture, "the box jelly didn't develop its horrible toxic venom just to torture people at the beach," said Don Boyer, curator of reptiles and amphibians at the San Diego Zoo. The jellyfish requires its powerful poison to catch and eat its preferred prey, shrimp. Since a struggling shrimp can easily damage the delicate creature, the jellies need to kill their meal as quickly as possible.

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