Scorpions to Snakes; Bites and Stings That Hurt the Most

But people shouldn't revile the black widow, she stressed. "I have them on my porch and in my house," she said. "They never leave their webs, you always know where they are — they're better than a bug zapper."

Gila Monster

This slow-moving lizard from the Southwest United States packs a surprisingly painful bite.

Cecil Schwalbe, ecologist with the U.S. geological survey, was bit by a Gila monster while handling one in an outreach demonstration in front of 200 people. He lists it as the most painful bite in his experience.

"My finger was on fire, the wave of fire moved slowly up my body," Schwalbe said. Within five minutes I turned pasty green and went into shock. … I had pain in my kidneys, blood in my urine. … All of my sphincters in my body were trying to relax. It was on my finger for two minutes and it bit me five times — every bite went right to the bone."

The reasons for the pain are twofold. First, the Gila monster has very sharp teeth, each about a quarter of an inch long. When the animal bites, it chomps down hard — and doesn't let go. Stories are told of bite victims rushing to the hospital with the lizard still attached.

Second, Gila monsters are equipped with specialized venom, full of compounds that break down collagen and vein membranes, a cocktail that is "built to cause inflammation, and just cause pain — it's all about pain," said Beck. On top of the pain, the venom's chemicals cause sweating, diarrhea, vomiting and a drop in blood pressure.

The goal of all this misery is to make predators and enemies stay away. The slow-moving Gila monster can become easy prey, and it relies on its knack for a nasty bite to defend itself.

While the Gila monster's venom might have caused misery in a few people, it has ended up helping many others; it's now the source of a new drug, called Byetta, which treats type Type II Diabetes. Researchers believe that this drug is just scratching the surface of the potential that venomous species have — each creature in this list produces complex, potentially lifesaving compounds.

Something to keep in mind next time you curse the existence of that pesky bee or sneaky snake.

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