In 1983, entomologist Dr. Justin O. Schmidt sacrificed his body for science and purposely got bitten and stung by a wide variety of nasty insects. Schmidt’s book, The Sting of the Wild, described his pain responses and measured the intensity on a scale of 1-4.
More than 35 years later, wildlife biologist Adam Thorn and professional animal handler Rob “Caveman” Alleva are trying to expand on Schmidt’s ideas by measuring the pain inflicted not only by insects, but also by arachnids, reptiles, aquatic creatures and just about anything else most of us were taught to fear. The duo has created a 30-point index that measures the pain intensity and duration, and bodily damage inflicted by each animal. Not-so-squeamish viewers can watch Thorn and Alleva suffer for our entertainment and/or enlightenment in their new eight-part docuseries Kings of Pain (Tuesdays at 10pm ET/PT beginning Nov. 12).
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“These are animals that aren’t necessarily deadly, but you’ll feel like you’re dying,” Thorn says of the criteria for selecting the creatures. “They inflict a lot of pain, but the risk of dying is quite low. They’re animals that people encounter quite a bit, as well. That’s why we want to do the pain index, so that when people do encounter one of these animals or get stung by one of these animals, they know exactly what to expect, how long they can expect it for and if it’s going to leave them with any damage.”
Even though these animals can really hurt you, it doesn’t mean that they always will. Thorn and Alleva discovered that getting stung on purpose isn’t as easy as it appears. “That was actually our biggest challenge,” Alleva says. “The tarantula was really reluctant at first, because we were using the wrong method. We were putting it on top of our arm, and it thought it was just sitting on a log. Like, ‘OK, I’m just chilling.’ But as soon as we put our arm on the same level plane as the tarantula and moved toward it, then it saw a threat and then it bit. A lot of the times, the animal just wants to get away. And sometimes we had to go through a learning process of how to get bitten, which is so counterintuitive to what we normally do.”
Kings of Pain is not for the fainthearted, and obviously one shouldn’t attempt this at home. Thorn and Alleva are closely monitored by medical staff with specialized training in treating animal bites, and the health observations are recorded for research.