In 1983, the entomologist Justin Schmidt published the results of a uniquely unenviable project: He had created a scale that attempted to quantify the pain inflicted by various forms of insect bites and stings. Some stings cause no pain in humans, thus meriting a 0 on Schmidt's scale; insects such as bees and wasps -- which inflict a wound that is definitely painful, but not excruciating -- warrant a 2 on the scale. A 4 was reserved for bites that are, indeed, excruciating. The unenviable part was this: To create his scale, Schmidt used himself as a guinea pig. He let himself get bitten by various insects, and then recorded the results. Rather poetically, in some cases: Wasp stings (2.0 on the scale) are "hot and smoky, almost irreverent"; the bite of a red harvester ant (3.0) is "bold and unrelenting"; that of a tarantula hawk (4.0) is "blinding, fierce, shockingly electric."
Schmidt's work was an attempt to bring description to the almost indescribable pain that some insects can inflict on their human victims. Now, a story in the New York Times both adds to that project and flips it around. It's a story that is all about the subjectivity: a history told by the victim. Jackson Landers, who is a hunter and activist as well as a writer -- and a guy who has had crossings with bears, lionfish, and other contextually terrifying creatures -- was, this spring, bitten by a black widow that had set up a nest in his shoe. Being a writer, Landers wrote about the experience. In uniquely unenviable detail.