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updated: 3/3/2014 12:48 PM

How much does a bee sting hurt? Check the five-point scale

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  • The cicada killer wasp is one of the many species of wasps that can be found in North America.

      The cicada killer wasp is one of the many species of wasps that can be found in North America.
    Courtesy of Doug Taron

 

You wanted to know

Aspiring writers who attended the Grayslake Area Public Library's youth program "Novel Detectives" had these questions for Kids Ink, "How much would it hurt if a wasp would sting you?" and "How big are devil worms?"

The sting of a wasp, bee, hornet, ant or other insect can really smart.

Just as a thermometer measures how hot or cold it is outside, Justin O. Schmidt, an entomologist, or insect expert, made a five-point scale that measures the ouch from a bee or wasp sting. The scale is called the Schmidt sting pain index.

The scale runs from zero to four, with four being the biggest wallop. Schmidt subjected himself to stings from 78 species of bees, wasps and ants to score their stings.

"There's not much that goes beyond a two or three here in Illinois," said Doug Taron, curator of biology and vice president of research and conservation at Chicago's Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

"A lot of stings here are from ground-dwelling insects like yellow jackets."

On Schmidt's scale, the yellow jacket rates a two. Topping the scale at a four is a tarantula hawk, also called a spider wasp, which lives in the southwestern states. Schmidt wrote descriptions for each sting, and this one really smarts -- the sting is "blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair dryer has been dropped into your bubble bath."

This time of year, the nature museum is short on stinging insects, but come summer, the green roof will be buzzing with honey bees in its beehives -- stinging in at another two on the Schmidt scale.

"If the bees do well, we make honey," Taron said. And once the sweet gooey bee product is harvested, the local honey is available for sale in the gift shop.

What are devil worms? Almost too tiny to see, devil worms are only a half millimeter in size, but their discovery shook the scientific community world to its core.

They were first identified only two years ago and are remarkable because they live so far under the earth's surface that it seems almost impossible.

"Everywhere we think is a harsh environment, there could be multicellular organisms, not just bacteria living there," Taron said.

He listed factors that make the devil worm's existence almost unthinkable -- the heat and pressure from being two miles deep below the earth's surface. Geoscientists saw "black little swirly things" wriggling in samples scooped from South African gold mines. No light and very low oxygen levels add to the improbability that any life form could survive so far underground.

The worm, called halicephalobus mephisto, is the deepest living creature found -- so far.

Want to learn more about insects and worms? The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is buzzing with butterflies, bird specimens and exhibits that offer hands-on knowledge of the nature in our neighborhood. For more information on hours, activities and more, see the museum website at www.naturemuseum.org.

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