The renowned University of Arizona Entomologist Justin O. Schmidt, also known as the “King of Sting,” died Saturday evening from Parkinson’s Disease. Schmidt is best known for rating the pain of Hymenoptera insects–stinging bugs like bees, wasps, and ants.
Justin O Schmidt, an intrepid entomologist who measured the agony of insect stings by allowing himself to be stung hundreds of times in creating a renowned and vividly descriptive pain scale that ranked them, died on Feb. 18 in Tucson, Ariz. He was 75. His wife, Dr. Li Schmidt, said the cause was complications of Parkinson’s disease. He has a eccentric nickname as King of Sting.
Dr. Schmidt, who brought a joyful exuberance to his work and gained a measure of pop culture fame from it. Spent his career investigating the biochemistry and lethality of bee, wasp, and ant venom. And how they used their natural weaponry to deter predators. And he suffered, willingly, for his research: He was stung, sometimes on purpose, more than 1,000 times by his count. Schmidt was able to prove that if a colony faces higher danger. Then the more pain and higher potency of venom the insect can inflict.
Born in March 1947, Justin O Schmidt turned his love of insects into an incredibly well-respected career. Justin explained what had inspired him to create his scale. He said: “I wanted to find out whether the most painful stings are also the ones that can do the most damage. We could already measure the damage a sting inflicts by a variety of different methods. But we had no meaningful way to measure the pain.”
He explained: “The index records how much pain an insect sting causes so that we can make scientific comparisons between different species’ stings. I chose the four-point scale because it’s hard to distinguish between levels of pain in finer detail – on a 10-point scale, say.”
His research has resulted in over 185 publications, 20 book chapters, two edited books and hundreds of scientific presentations. Schmidt died surrounded by family and loved ones in his home.