As Heard on BBC Radio Bristol
Insect Stings are a defence feature, but what more can we discover about this amazing weapon and hunting tool. Let’s explore the answers to some frequently asked questions to uncover a little more about this fascinating instrument.
Where does the term sting come from?
The word sting comes from the old English word "stingen", and is defined quite simply as a wound caused by a sting or the sensation and stimulus experienced as a result of a sharp implement piercing the skin.
It has nothing to do with venom in particular; it is simply a level and quality of discomfort felt. Of course venom will create additional undesirable sensations and physiological effects but as an example a stinging nettle stings but delivers no venom.
You could measure the level of pain on a scale of 1 - 10 with one being no pain and ten being the worst imaginable pain to the casualty.
You could consider the quality of the pain in terms of how it feels, for example does the pain come and go or does it pulse on and off?
Does it come in waves of pain? Is it hot, burning, cool, aching, stabbing, sharp or dull etc.
One scientist called Justin O. Schmidt has developed a unique means for measuring the intensity of insect stings called the Schmidt Pain Index.
The index goes from 0 for a sting completely ineffective against humans all the way up to a 4+ for the very worst stings.
Fortunately in the UK the worst sting is possessed by honey bees and paper or social wasps which sit between 2 and 3 on the scale.
What insects have a sting?
The family of insects known as hymenoptera that includes among other species - bees, wasps and ants is gifted with the weapon we know as a sting.
What is a sting?
The females have a tube at the rear of the abdomen which is called an ovipositor and provides a means of laying eggs. The males cannot sting as they lack this apparatus.
In some species of hymenoptera the ability to produce and deploy venom via the ovipositor of the females is well developed and highly effective.
Bees use the sting as a means of deterring mammalian predators and have a stinger that possesses barbs that ensure their defensive efforts go on fighting the perceived threat for several minutes or more after they have been killed or dislodged.
Social wasps are able to deliver multiple stings due to the need to utilize the sting as a means of subduing potential prey as well as for individual and colony defense. In effect a couple of wasps could deliver a dozen or more stings if they so wished and still go on to hunt and defend for another day.
What is Venom?
Venom is a highly complex biochemical cocktail containing substances that attack the neurological and biochemical processes and mechanisms of the victims body. Every sting is slightly different and as a result, so too are the side effects experienced.
Venom also has desirable effects and has been used historically and even today for medicinal purposes and in the treatment of people suffering inflammatory diseases.
so as you can see a sting is more than an uncomfortable sensation it is a marvel of the insect world
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