The Sting of the Wild

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JHU Press, May 15, 2016 - Biography & Autobiography - 257 pages
4 Reviews
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Entomologist Justin O. Schmidt is on a mission. Some say it’s a brave exploration, others shake their heads in disbelief. His goal? To compare the impacts of stinging insects on humans, mainly using himself as the test case.

In The Sting of the Wild, the colorful Dr. Schmidt takes us on a journey inside the lives of stinging insects. He explains how and why they attack and reveals the powerful punch they can deliver with a small venom gland and a “sting,” the name for the apparatus that delivers the venom. We learn which insects are the worst to encounter and why some are barely worth considering.

The Sting of the Wild includes the complete Schmidt Sting Pain Index, published here for the first time. In addition to a numerical ranking of the agony of each of the eighty-three stings he’s sampled so far, Schmidt describes them in prose worthy of a professional wine critic: “Looks deceive. Rich and full-bodied in appearance, but flavorless” and “Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like walking over flaming charcoal with a three-inch nail embedded in your heel.”

Schmidt explains that, for some insects, stinging is used for hunting: small wasps, for example, can paralyze huge caterpillars for long enough to lay eggs inside them, so that their larvae emerge within a living feast. Others are used to kill competing insects, even members of their own species. Humans usually experience stings as defensive maneuvers used by insects to protect their nest mates. With colorful descriptions of each venom’s sensation and a story that leaves you tingling with awe, The Sting of the Wild’s one-of-a-kind style will fire your imagination.

"Schmidt's tales will prove infectiously engaging even to entomophobes."—Publishers Weekly

"Even though the pain-laced topic might leave you wincing, Schmidt’s engaging and entertaining writing makes for a tale worth reading."—Scientific American

"[Schmidt's] low-down on sting biochemistry and physiology is relentlessly zestful, even as he recounts the swelling, burning consequences of his curiosity."—Nature

"On Schmidt's pain scale, this book rates a zero—painless. On the pleasure scale, it rates a ten, a highly enjoyable read."—Natural History

"Readers who share my fascination with the natural world, and particularly those who revel in unusual animal facts, will love The Sting of the Wild."—Between the Covers

"An excellent book."—Newsweek

"The Sting of the Wild is full of the stories of science of stings. Schmidt is an engaging writer, and his youthful enthusiasm for scary critters makes for a book that will sometimes scare you and sometimes make you double over with laughter . . . It’s a masterpiece of nature writing."—Nature's Cool Green Science

"If you’re interested in bugs of any kind, and especially the notorious ones, this book will entertain, educate, and excite."—Discover Magazine

"Not only does he explain his Schmidt Sting Pain Index, wherein he rates the pain of numerous stings on a scale of one to four, but he also relates the fascinating natural histories of these animals."—National Geographic

"Totally fascinating."—FiveThirtyEight

"It's hard to imagine a nature book being more fascinating and fun."—Virgin Radio UK

"In addition to providing colorful, connoisseur-grade descriptions of the pain caused by stings, The Sting of the Wild provides all sorts of information about stinging insects."—Newser

"Beautifully written . . . like nothing else you have ever read."—NPR's Science Friday

"Full of adventure, humor and Schmidt's impressive scholarship."—Redlands Daily Facts

"Schmidt, an entomologist at the Southwestern Biological Institute, is an excellent writer. He can write clear, engaging explanations of sting evolution and venom chemistry, as well as spin a good yarn about his adventures collecting stinging insects. I enjoyed his dry, judiciously applied, wit."—Pica Hudsonia

"The Sting of the Wild weaves [Schmidt's] theories about stinging insects through a narrative of his personal experiences digging in the dirt. For many readers, the highlight of the book will be the appendix, his celebrated Pain Scale for Stinging Insects, which rates the pain level of dozens of insect stings, an index he created mostly by firsthand experience, either by suffering stings incidentally during field research or, in some cases, by inducing them. Because stings of the same magnitude don’t necessarily feel the same, Schmidt has written haiku-like descriptions for each of the 83 sting entries."—New York Times Magazine

"A delicate and highly refreshing glimpse into the private mind of a professional scientist."—Times Literary Supplement

"Schmidt’s story is really new, refreshing, and thoroughly entertaining."—Journal of Natural History

"This is an informative and engaging story about the fascinating lives behind the insects that you may just think of as very annoying visitors at picnics."—The Biologist

"[A] surprisingly joyful book . . . Schmidt does a good job of passing on his boundless enthusiasm for insects. The Sting of the Wild is an easy read, packed with chemistry and anecdotes."—Chemistry World

"The Sting of the Wild sheds light on the mysteries of stinging insects in a delightful and humorous narration. I recommend the book to every entomologist, ecologist, and naturalist interested in exploring the impressive world of Hymenoptera."—American Entomologist

"A good read, with valuable evolutionary context for bees and their insect relatives interwoven with entertaining travel tales of an engaged entomologist."—American Bee Journal

Justin O. Schmidt is a biologist at Southwestern Biological Institute and is associated with the Department of Entomology at the University of Arizona. He is the coeditor of Insect Defenses: Adaptive Mechanisms and Strategies of Prey and Predators.


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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - mkfs - LibraryThing

I went through this book sorely disappointed. Sure, there were narratives describing the greatest hits of Schmidt being stung, and a respectable amount of informative material about insects both ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - difreda - LibraryThing

OUCH! DAMN IT! ARRGH! - Justin Schmidt hits a home run in his publication of "The Sting of the Wild". Schmidt entices the reader to travel with him though time and across the planet as he teaches us ... Read full review


1 Stung
2 The Stinger
3 The First Stinging Insects
4 The Pain Truth
5 Sting Science
6 Sweat Bees and Fire Ants
7 Yellowjackets and Wasps
8 Harvester Ants
9 Tarantula Hawks and Solitary Wasps
10 Bullet Ants
An Evolutionary Symbiosis
Appendix Pain Scale for Stinging Insects

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About the author (2016)

Justin O. Schmidt is a biologist at the Southwestern Biological Institute and is associated with the Department of Entomology at the University of Arizona. He is the coeditor of Insect Defenses: Adaptive Mechanisms and Strategies of Prey and Predators.