Scorpions to Snakes; Bites and Stings That Hurt the Most

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.

Rattlesnakes and Their Relations

If there's a family of snakes you don't want to anger, it would be the vipers.

While these snakes don't always have the most deadly bites, they have the most painful ones.

Van Wallach of the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology has had several viper bites; the worst one, he said, "came from an African bush viper. It felt like somebody had a blowtorch and was burning you inside your arm. … It went on for three straight days before I had any relief."

Kelly Zamudio, a biologist at Cornell University, described a similar sensation when she was bitten by another member of the viper family — the rattlesnake.

"It feels like burning, like you're being branded, but the brand never lifts," she said.

The key to the excruciating pain of the viper's bite is its tissue-destroying venom, which dissolves cell walls and causes internal bleeding. As the venom works its way through the body, so does the pain.

Vipers' tissue-eating venom isn't designed to hurt humans, but rather, to get a jump on digesting their food. When the snake strikes a rodent, bird or another type of prey, the toxins work quickly to help breaking down the tissue and get the meal ready for eating.


Although these animals gained a bad rep after the tragic Steve Irwin incident, stingrays are not aggressive or (usually) lethal animals. However, they have a sting, and on the rare occasion they choose to use it, "it's very excruciating," said Edward DeMartini, a research biologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries.

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