Justin Schmidt’s The Sting of the Wild is an exciting adventure into the life histories, habits, and (of course) sting pain of a variety of insects from around the world. Schmidt does not shy away from any level of sting pain – be it the tarantula hawk, the velvet ‘ant’, or even the notorious bullet ant. His index of pain, which you can find in the back of the book, provides poetic descriptions of the stings Schmidt has personally experienced in his time as a researcher. While many may pick up Schmidt’s book specifically because of that index, being curious where particular insects might fall in the ranks (a honey bee is a humble two of four, for reference), the book’s chapters are where the real excitement lies.
The book begins with a balance of basic scientific theory (relating to pain and evolution) and personal stories, and while this part is admittedly perhaps not as fast-paced as later chapters, it lays a good foundation. After pushing through the theory, Schmidt presents chapters chock full of the science and daily lives of our insect friends around the world. Schmidt moves through his experiences with (and what science knows about) stingless bees, bullet ants, tarantula hawks, fire and harvester ants, ‘yellow jackets’ and more before leaving us with the honey bee, the stinging insect that seems to frame many of the interactions the public has with Hymenoptera (the order of bees, ants, wasps).
Reading about these bugs fills one with awe, curiosity, and perhaps a tinge of fear, and Schmidt does a great job making even the boring parts of being an insect (pupation, for example) seem pretty cool. Schmidt is occasionally a tad repetitive when discussing the life cycles of the insects but overall the story moves at a fast clip; and the ability to skip around between chapters is another bonus for those of us that feel constricted by chronology. There are a lot of ways to enjoy this book.
Not surprisingly, given the fascination we have with pain and the book’s storytelling quality, the book has really taken off with publications as important as the New York Times extolling Schmidt’s tale. So you likely don’t need me to tell you it’s good and worth reading, even for the non-entomologist. This is really what makes Schmidt’s novel so magical: it has such a rare capacity to provide joy to such a wide audience, introducing non-entomologists to the wonder-filled world of insects while still providing enough science and story to engage the more knowledgeable. If you’re looking for a fun, nature-filled read, grab this bright yellow book and prepare to get excited about insects!