Coyote Peterson and the things that sting
The world is full of nasty stingers. Everything from the common bee to the notorious bullet ant are enough to inflict unease in those around them. But not all of us are so afraid—and this is where Coyote Peterson steps in, utilizing his fearless demeanor to both educate and impress. Here, he climbs what’s known as the “insect sting pain index” to show us just exactly what these terrible stingers do. The results, he hopes, will both entertain and educate. Hopefully it works.
1. Yellow jacket
While Mr. Peterson has been stung by quite a few wasps, ants, and bees, not all have been that painful. And to distinguish the bad from the worse, he started with the easy. This easy was the yellowjacket, a common foe to picnickers and gardeners everywhere.
The yellowjacket is not often primed to attack. But, when provoked, it can induce multiple stings. This ability is afforded to it by its fixed stinger. This key dividing difference between the honey bee and our yellowjacket frenemy is unfortunate for those who meet its ire—including Mr. Peterson. Regardless, its sting was mild compared to the red imported fire ant.
2. Red imported fire ant
The red imported fire ant is far more notorious than the yellowjacket. While the ant is originally from South America, it has made its way as an invasive species to much of North America. This is a total bummer for people (like me) who have stumbled across their nests while trying to have a fun time at Disneyland.
There are several things that make the fire ant a more egregious offender than the yellow jacket. The first is that they can both bite and sting—major ugh. The second is that their burrows are often disguised in normal-looking piles of dirt. But it’s really their venom that makes life such a drag.
3. Alkaloid venoms and other irksome foes
The fire ant’s sting induces a few unique plights. For one, it releases pheromones that communicate to other ants that an invader is nearby and should be attacked. Another is that they induce a pain and physiological reaction that is decisively less than choice. And this is the sting that Coyote Peterson had to bear.
This pain comes from an alkaloid venom (a compound normally derived from plants) called solenopsin. This venom kills off certain parts of the skin, creating a stingy, itchy, and pustule-filled sore. Despite how gross these stings may appear on the surface, they rank very low on what we call the insect pain sting index.
4. The insect sting pain index
The reason Peterson chose to do these lesser stings first is because he wanted to gradually build up to the bullet ant, the most notoriously painful sting in the Hymenoptera order (which contains all the stinging bees, wasps, and ants). The plan, then, was to traverse from the lightest to the most painful.
While it seems that Peterson has adopted a unique version of this index, an earlier version did exist. This earlier formulation outlined many of the same insects that Peterson sought to encounter and on a similar scale. It ranges from one to four with one being the least painful and four being the most.
5. Justin O. Schmidt, the pain pioneer
Believe it or not, but Mr. Peterson was not the first to put himself through the many torments of animal stings. Instead, an earlier progenitor exists. And it was this progenitor that first ranked the painfulness of these different stinging species. What a man, this pain pioneer.
Justin O. Schmidt, working out of the Carl Hayden Bee Research Center in Tucson, Arizona, formulated this first insect sting pain index in 1983. How did he do it? By twistedly allowing hundreds of different stinging insects to puncture his skin. Coyote Peterson has since taken his adapted version of the index to the public.
6. From terrible stings to even more terrible stings
Yellowjackets, earning a spot of two on the pain index, are pretty low on the list. And while fire ants only earn a 1.2, they are arguably worse because of their swarming tendencies. The harvester ant, tarantula hawk, and bullet ant (all to be mentioned momentarily) receive a much higher rating on our insect pain scale.
For the remainder of this article, we’ll move from the more mellow ends of this index to the more wince-inducing. The journey will take us from the harvester ant, scorpion, tarantula hawk, and bullet ant to a few species that aren’t actually on the pain index. We’ll start with the harvester ant.
7. Harvester ant
The harvester ant earns itself a medium-ish three on the insect sting pain index. Located in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, this ant species is another that can both bite and sting—neither of which are fun. They’re also, unfortunately for those who encounter them, considered one of the most aggressive ant species.
The sting of the harvester ant is considered 20 times more painful than that of your run-of-the-mill honey bee, injecting you with a venom that’ll linger for something like 30 minutes. Disconcertingly, this harvester ant’s stinger is like that of the fire ant in that it induces other ants to find and sting whatever provoked the first attack. Yikes.
8. The most poisonous sting
While the harvester ant isn’t the most highly ranked on the index, it is the most highly ranked in toxicity. Among entomologists and the like, the harvester ant is infamous for possessing the most toxic venom known to the Hymenoptera order. Receiving just a few of their venomous injections spells trouble.
The venom of 12 stings, for instance, is enough to kill a four and a half pound rat. The venom of 350 stings is enough to kill a 150 pound human. When Coyote plunges his hands into the harvester ant’s nest, then, you know the results will be, umm, interesting…so let’s see what happens.
9. A coyote harvested
While the venom of the harvester ant is considered the most toxic, it’s clearly not the most painful. Coyote’s goal was to hold his hands in the nest for roughly 60 seconds, all the while capturing the footage on his GoPro—which, not coincidentally, was also plunged into the nest.
Unlike the stings from the tarantula hawk and bullet ant that we’ll see later, this onslaught of stings wasn’t actually that bad. Peterson lasts the entire 60 seconds, jumps up, then swipes the remaining ants from his back, neck, and pant legs. The pain is like fire, he says. But it pales in comparison to what comes next.
10. The sting of a scorpion
While the scorpion is technically an arachnid (and therefore not on the insect sting pain index), it is something terrifying that Coyote Peterson has had sting him. Much contrary to popular opinion, though, most scorpions don’t inject you with a lethal amount of venom.
Of the many species of scorpion that exist, for example, only 25 have potentially life-threatening stings. Among the others, a sting is considered comparable to that of a bee sting—i.e., something you could brush off with little more than a sigh. This is probably why Coyote felt comfortable getting stung by one on one day, and then two on another.
11. Coyote vs scorpion
The first scorpion Peterson chose to get stung by was the giant desert hairy scorpion. But, despite its scary figure, it was for the most part lackluster. This why Peterson shrugged it off like it was nothing but a boring ol’ bee sting. It’s also likely the reason he chose to pair its stings with that of another in a later video.
Because this sting was so innocuous, Peterson thirsted for more. And this brought him to engage with another challenge—two scorpions. The first was again another giant desert hairy scorpion. The second was the stripe-tailed scorpion, a much more intimidating—at least by outside appearances—foe.
12. Coyote vs two scorpions
The stripe-tailed scorpion is significantly smaller than the giant desert scorpion, yet packs a much more painful sting. This relationship between size and sting tends to follow the size of pedipalps (i.e., the pincers). The smaller the pedipalps, the more potent the sting. The pedipalps of the stripe-tailed scorpion are far smaller than those of the desert scorpion.
While the sting of the stripe-tailed scorpion is much more potent than the desert hairy scorpion, neither induced too strong a reaction from Peterson. He took both like a bee sting—minor, relatively painless, and brief in tenure. Let this be a lesson to all those fear deserts creepy-crawlies: not all scary-looking things are that bad. Now back to our list.
13. Cow killer
The eastern velvet ant—colloquially known as the cow killer—is a species of ground wasp with a sting considered between that of the harvester ant and the warrior wasp (one of the most painful stings you will soon read about). The sting is rumored so painful that it can kill a full-grown cow in one fell swoop.
Terrifyingly, the stinger of the velvet ant is about the same size as its abdomen, making it the longest known stinger in relation to body size in the animal kingdom. It’s only the wingless females that can sting you, though, so you don’t have to worry too much about a painful aerial attack.
14. Cow killing coyote
When Coyote endures the sting, you can tell it isn’t fun. He first gets up and paces, then sits back down to get some shots of his pain. He’s quivering and panting heavily, asking the crew to wait until he regains composure. What does he say once he does? “Oh my gosh, guys, this is super bad!”
It is, as he says, the worst sting he’s yet taken; it feels like he’s getting stung over and over, pulsating and convulsing like a bad cramp. You can read the pain on his stressed face. It doesn’t look fun. The sting, however, still pales in comparison to what comes next: the tarantula hawk.
15. Tarantula hawk
Next on our list is the tarantula hawk—a wasp that’s neither tarantula nor hawk. Its ranking on the insect sting pain index? It’s at the top with a four. Apparently comparable to an assault with a taser gun, this sting is capable of inducing paralysis in the stung area.
One of the more disturbing facts about the tarantula hawk is how it uses its sting: it finds a tarantula, stings it into paralysis, then lays its eggs atop the agonized and immobile body. Then, the eggs hatch to feast on the live body of the spider. Total bummer. So what happens to Peterson when he lets this hawk attack his arm?
16. Peterson and the hawk
Unlike with previous stings, Peterson’s reaction here is less composed (if you can believe that). He leaps up from the sting zone, jumps to the ground, then clutches his stung left arm. He lets out a few terse, exasperated grunts. Kicking the dirt a bit in bouts of pain, you can tell he’s having an interesting experience.
The torment continues for several seconds, leaving him half-prostrate on the desert floor. His arm, he says, is in a state of paralysis—comparable in some ways to his accidental encounter with the Gila monster (another bite we’ll soon talk about). Despite this clearly painful reaction, the sting is still less severe than the bullet ant, our next big stinger.
17. Bullet Ant
The bullet ant is the insect Peterson has been waiting for. It stands at the peak of the insect sting pain index with a rating of 4+. Local to the rainforests of Costa Rica, its sting is said to be comparable to getting shot with an actual bullet (which insinuates that some poor fellow had enough experience to compare the two).
There are several reasons the bullet ant stands atop the insect sting pain index. The most salient of these reasons is the potency of its venom—what scientists call poneratoxin. This toxin induces the most painful sting of the insect world. It does this for several reasons.
Poneratoxin is a compound that affects the communication between cells in the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord). Primarily, it works on skeletal muscle—inducing paralysis—and on nociceptive fibers, which cause pain. This concoction makes poneratoxin an especially obnoxious aggriever, capable of inflicting all sorts of wicked sensations.
Essentially, the toxin causes neurons to fire far more rapidly than normal, shooting off signal after incessant signal. This unrelenting communication causes wave upon wave of terrible pain. In essence, your body is not a huge fan of this firing, so it tells you that it hurts–and we get to watch Peterson experience the entire excruciating process.
19. Coyote stung a bullet
The sting of the bullet ant was definitely the worst looking sting Peterson has yet gone through. He described the sensation as “hot, radiating, waves of pain.” How he expressed any eloquence during this display of pure pain is difficult to comprehend. But, alas, he was able to spurt out a few coherent words.
And, just like with the tarantula hawk, the pain of the sting was great enough to send brave ol’ Coyote Peterson to the ground, clutching his arm in terrific pain. The severity of the sting, as Peterson made clear, made it worthy of its superlative ranking. So, if you ever encounter a nest of bullet ants while gallivanting through the Costa Rican rainforest, it’s best you steer clear.
20. Of warrior wasps and YouTube comments
In response to Peterson’s climb up the insect sting pain index, his massive YouTube following proposed another challenge—the warrior wasp. After enough momentum swelled in the form of comments and online pleas, Peterson conceded to his audience and plotted his next pain journey.
The goal, then, was to find a warrior wasp, capture it, then make it sting. To do this, he took off again to the rainforests of Costa Rica. Here, he found exactly what he was looking for: an arboreal nest with the nasty little warriors. You know what happens next: a fun journey (at least for us) into the world of terrible stings.
21. Coyote faces the warrior
Immediately after getting stung, Coyote jumps up and shouts. Clearly he’s in pain. What’s striking, though, is that the pain only grows, leaving Peterson to pace the rainforest floor in agony. But, even with this progressive discomfort, Peterson says the sting isn’t as bad as the bullet ant. He’s probably lucky on that front.
Instead, he compares it to the shock of the tarantula hawk—a swelling pain that comes in successive waves. Now that Peterson has ascended the insect pain index and taken to another sting that wasn’t even planned, what will he do next? Well, he finds some other notoriously nasty creatures to bite, sting, and stab him.
22. More stings, bites, and stabbings
The move onto other creatures that bite, sting, and stab is a departure from the insect sting pain index. Here, we move out of the insect kingdom and into the world of other animals and their painful self-defense mechanisms. While this departure might take us from the world of insects, it doesn’t take us away from Peterson’s main goal: education.
His new list of pain-inducing creatures includes the giant desert centipede, Gila monster, and lionfish. Each of these terrible critters inflicts some breed of awful pain on Peterson, and we’re here to sit back and watch. The purpose of each—in case you forgot—is to encourage us to appreciate these animals from a safe distance.
23. Giant Desert Centipede
The giant desert centipede is another of those creatures that induces a mass amount of unease in those who see them. They’re creepy, crawly, and—as we’re about to find out—terribly poisonous. And if its sight wasn’t enough to scare you away from trying to handle them, maybe Peterson’s palpable pain will.
To inflict this pain, the centipede uses some modified legs—called macilipade—as fangs. The bite from these fangs, as poor Peterson now knows all too well, is far worse than that from the bullet ant sting. This is saying a lot, since that pain was enough to keep him flat on the desert floor.
24. Worst yet
After getting bit by the giant desert centipede, Coyote wasn’t feeling too hot. He fell to the ground, pointed to the puncture marks, then fell back to the ground in even more pain. “Immediately searing,” he says. It’s “so much worse than a bullet ant sting!”
For the better part of two minutes, Peterson just seethes on the ground, kicking and shifting dirt. It’s clearly far more an ordeal than any of the insect stings. It’s so bad, in fact, that he has to use a venom extractor to remove some of the venom. But the pain gets even worse, and Peterson eventually makes a trip to urgent care.
25. Gila Monster
While most of the stings and bites Peterson has thus far suffered were planned, some he has come by accidentally. His encounter with the Gila monster was one of these accidental encounters. And, to say the least, it wasn’t his favorite. Maybe it will teach him not to get so close next time.
This accident, while terrible, provided another opportunity for us to watch Peterson in pain. And so, we turn to the Gila monster bite to see what happens when a poisonous lizard implements its very effective defense mechanism. It is, let’s just say, one of the more unbearable pains to boot.
26. One lizard to rule them
The Gila monster is the only known poisonous lizard species in the United States. What’s worse is that there’s no antivenom for its bite. So while the sting from a rattlesnake, funnel web spider, or other creepy crawly might be terrible (and in fact life-threatening), at least there’s a medical remedy through which to ameliorate the damage.
The Gila monster has no such cure. So once bitten, you have little recourse but to sit back and embrace the pain. You should, however, definitely seek medical attention—as you should for any of these bites. So now, we look to what Peterson describes as the worst—albeit accidental—pain he has yet to experience: the bite of the Gila monster.
27. Coyote and the monster
After being bit, Peterson was so distraught he told his cameramen to turn off the cameras. Since the bite was accidental, he likely didn’t have any prepared material to rehearse on film. This lack of preparation probably made him uncomfortable speaking in front of the camera.
Despite this reluctance, Peterson later described the bite as the worst pain he has yet to experience. While it didn’t merit a trip to the ER like the bite from the centipede, it did merit enough for him to say it was the worst bite he’s yet encountered. Considering Peterson’s lengthy CV of unbearable bites, this says a lot.
The last little creature on this expedition of terrible stings, bites, and stabs is the lionfish. This invasive species is another with a notoriously painful venom. However, unlike the insects and other stingers we’ve talked about, the lionfish attacks its prey via stabbing. At first glance, this fish looks like Nemo on steroids.
The lionfish achieves this task by dipping its spines—which it has along its back and belly—into pockets of flesh that hold the poison. This enables it to lift its spines toward the incoming predator or prey, stab it with its spiky vertebra, and induce enough paralysis to escape or feast.
29. Lion or Coyote?
To get the lionfish to sting him, Peterson holds the captured fish by its mouth. Then, he plunges his bare hand upon the back of the fish’s erect spines. He winces pretty badly, but the actual sensation of initial pain wasn’t all that bad. This changes, however, as the poison moves through Peterson’s veins.
As time moves forward, the pain from the stabbing grows–though not to anything comparable to the Gila monster, centipede, or bullet ant. His arm starts to swell where stung, and the pain grows a bit more. Fortunately, hot water helps to break down the poison, so Peterson uses this as a quick remedy. Thank goodness.
30. The things that sting
Each of Coyote’s videos has a purpose—to educate and inform. The goal is to show us the pain that these can animals inflict so that we, the audience, are motivated to exercise caution when we see them in the wild. A noble and self-sacrificial effort if I’ve ever seen one.
While his videos have certainly sparked wannabes and copycats, for the most part they’ve likely served their purpose—to deter us from approaching these powerfully painful creatures. And, while his pain has certainly been our education, it is also our entertainment. Hopefully it’s been enough to keep you free of stings.