10 Creatures That Deliver the Most Painful Stings and Bites

It might not kill you, but the pain might make you wish it had.

Sign posted on a sandy beach in front of a blue ocean that says, "Warning: Beware of Jellyfish" and has an image of a person with a jellyfish wrapping its tentacles around the person's leg.

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There are many animals in the biological world that are venomous, but not all venom is created equal. Some stings and bites are merely irritating; others can stun their victims slowly and unexpectedly. Then there are those stings that cause extremely high levels of pain. Here are 10 of the animals that deliver some of the most painful bites or stings in nature.

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A platypus floating near the surface of the water

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Considering the large number of venomous creatures that inhabit Australia, the cute and clumsy platypus might seem like a safe option. Unfortunately, it isn’t always. A male platypus has ankle spurs on its hind legs that are capable of delivering a sting that can cause excruciating pain and swelling in humans. Conventional painkillers don't work, either. Platypuses, however, usually do not sting humans unless provoked; they primarily use their venomous spurs as a defense against rival males of their species.

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Gila Monster

A gila monster with its mouth open peaking out from a hole in the sand next to a green cactus

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Gila monsters, one of the few venomous lizards in the world, are colorful natives of southwest North America. Since they lack the musculature to forcibly inject venom, they rely on hard chewing with their sharp teeth to ensure that the poison gets implanted. Gila monsters can be so aggressive that they have been known to flip over while biting, further opening the wound. 

A Gila monster bite will cause pain in humans, but fortunately these creatures are mostly docile toward humans as long as they are left alone. If one does bite you, pry open its jaws with a stick, while ensuring the lizard has a solid foothold on the ground.

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Black Widow Spider

A black widow spider making a web near three green leaves

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One of the world's most notorious spiders, the black widow lives up to its reputation and is capable of delivering a bite that is both painful and toxic in humans. Early symptoms of a female black widow bite may be minimal like a pinprick, or not felt at all. Within an hour, symptoms may include pain throughout the body near the site of the bite, difficulty breathing, high blood pressure, muscle weakness, nausea and vomiting, and, in pregnant women, contractions and early labor. Interestingly, bites from male black widow spiders, which are smaller and less colorful than females, are less harmful as they contain less venom.

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One stingray swimming near the ocean's surface while four stingrays sit on the sand floor below

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The creature that killed Australian conservationist Steve Irwin isn't usually a threat to humans, but it will strike if threatened. Stingrays have sharp barbs containing venom on their tails, and most injuries occur when someone accidentally steps on one. Effects of a stingray encounter usually occur within six to 48 hours and are rarely fatal. Symptoms may include breathing difficulty, sweating, muscle cramps, bleeding, seizures, and chest pain.

To avoid being stung by a stingray’s sharp barbs, shuffle your feet as you walk through the sand in shallow water. This lets the stingray know you're coming.

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Tarantula Hawk Wasp

A tarantual hawk wasp on a flowering plant with green leaves

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Tarantula hawk wasps are huge, and their name is derived from their habit of hunting tarantulas. After stinging a tarantula, the wasp lays its eggs on the spider and buries it. Because tarantulas are not easy prey, tarantula hawks are equipped with a powerful venom that is reputed to create one of the most painful stings in the insect world. According to the Schmidt Sting Pain Index—a pain scale rating the relative pain caused by some insect stings—a sting by a tarantula hawk rates as the second most painful sting ever measured. If it's any consolation, the pain supposedly only lasts for five minutes.

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Stonefish hiding among red, gold, and green coral

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Not every creature on this list is capable of delivering a painful sting that can kill you, but the stonefish is one of the exceptions. Stonefish are the most venomous fish in the world, capable of delivering fatal stings to humans. Unfortunately, stonefish are also masters of camouflage, blending in with their surroundings on the ocean’s floor or on coral reefs. They're found in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Stonefish have spines along their dorsal fins that contain venom. A sting from a stonefish requires medical attention and treatment with antiserum to reverse the symptoms, which may include irregular heartbeat, temporary paralysis, shock, extreme pain, and possibly death.

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Pit Viper

An orange and tan copperhead curled up on dried leaves

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Pit vipers, which include copperheads, water moccasins, and rattlesnakes, are venomous snakes. In the U.S., copperheads are responsible for the most venomous snake bites annually, primarily due to proximity to human habitats. Of all the North American pit viper species, however, the venom of copperheads is among the least toxic.

While a copperhead snake bite is not often deadly, it can cause severe pain within a few minutes of the bite. Symptoms of bites by all species of pit vipers may include changes in heart rate or rhythm, difficulty breathing, numbness near the site of the bite, swelling of lymph nodes, and weakness or dizziness. The bite must be treated, or else the tissue around it could be permanently damaged.

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Arizona Bark Scorpion

A golden Arizona bark scorpion on the side of a tree

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Arizona bark scorpions are the most venomous scorpions in North America—a frightening fact considering that they are also the most commonly encountered house scorpion in Arizona. The venom causes acute pain and can lead to symptoms that include frothing at the mouth, breathing difficulties, and muscle convulsions. Limbs may also become immobilized. Though the venom is rarely fatal, its effects can last for as long as 72 excruciating hours. Arizona bark scorpions tend to hide in dark crevices during the day and hunt at night.

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Box Jellyfish

Several box jellyfish with their blue bodies and white tentacles near the ocean's surface

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These gelatinous sea creatures, also called sea wasps, are among the most feared animals in the ocean. You might have a better chance of escaping a shark attack unscathed than surviving a swim through a box jellyfish's tentacles. Even jellyfish that have washed up on beaches can still release venomous stingers from their tentacles.

The venom is so toxic that it is reputed to be the most venomous creature in the world. Within five minutes of being stung, humans typically experience extreme pain, shortness of breath, and sometimes cardiac arrest. Researchers are working on an antidote to block the effects of a box jellyfish sting that could be effective if applied to the skin within 15 minutes of the sting.

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Bullet Ant

Three black bullet ants on a brown leaf

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The bullet ant has the distinction of delivering the most painful sting in the insect world, as evidenced by the Schmidt Sting Pain Index. Some even believe that a bullet ant sting might be the most painful sting, period. Entomologist Justin Schmidt, who created the Pain Index, experienced it firsthand and described it as "pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch nail embedded in your heel."

This menacing ant is found in South America, where it is referred to as the 24-hour ant in reference to the duration of time pain lasts after being stung. Despite the excruciating pain, the stings are not fatal and are not known to cause permanent damage.

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