Scorpions to Snakes; Bites and Stings That Hurt the Most

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.

The perpetrators of burning bites and painful stings are often minuscule. Take, for example, the bark scorpion. Usually measuring in at one to three inches in length, it is a critter that still packs a venomous sting. In children, the poison from a single sting can lead to irregular eye movements, involuntary thrashing of limbs, breathing difficulties and other symptoms.

Its sting made headlines today with the release of a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine suggesting that an experimental anti-venom medication used in Mexico but not approved for use in the United States appears effective in helping children recover quickly.

Researchers at the University of Arizona looked at a total of 15 young children in the small study, all of whom were receiving treatment at a Tucson pediatric intensive-care unit after having been stung by a bark scorpion, which is common to the southwest United States. What they found was that the eight children who received the drug had their symptoms disappear within two hours. The seven children who did not receive the drug, however, suffered for more than four hours and needed sedation and hospitalization before recovering fully.

"This study told us that the dangerous effects of bark scorpion venom can be reversed quickly with the right anti-venom," Dr. Leslie Boyer, principal investigator of the study and director of the Venom Immunochemistry, Pharmacology and Emergency Response Institute at The University of Arizona College of Medicine, said in a news release issued by the university. "One-hundred percent of the children who received it got better very quickly, meaning that using this anti-venom in the emergency room will make intensive care treatment unnecessary for most patients."

Of course, not all bites and stings can be ameliorated with a well-timed dose of anti-venom, and some are even deadly. On the following pages are 10 more of the most excruciating stings and bites nature has to offer. Some are potentially fatal, 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."

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