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What the painful bites of 6 different deadly creatures feel like
From the black widow to the bullet ant, these bites are best experienced vicariously
"I felt a warmth in my abdomen" — the sting of the black widow.
"I felt a warmth in my abdomen" — the sting of the black widow. Robin Loznak/ZUMA Press/Corbis
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he New York Times today published a story about what it feels like to be bitten by a black widow. In it, nature writer Jackson Landers details his scary experience as a human guinea pig, testing a new antivenin drug designed to help offset the spider's poison.

A previous chance encounter with the hourglass-shaped spider — which was hiding in his fishing shoes — is partially the reason Landers decided to volunteer his services. "I donned the shoes before walking to the edge of the water," he writes. "Within about a dozen steps, I felt a stinging sensation on the second toe of my left foot, as if there had been a thorn inside the shoe. Then the pain increased to about that of a wasp's sting. I sat on a rock and removed the shoe. The squashed remains of a spider were smeared across the insole."

To pass the time he continued fishing. That's when the venom began to kick in:

Three catfish later, the symptoms were progressing. I felt a warmth in my abdomen. This turned into pressure, which became a painful cramping. There could be no more denial. I carried my fish up the hill to my car and headed for the University of Virginia hospital, in Charlottesville…

That night, I was the hospital's closest thing to a rock star. A parade of residents and medical students stopped in my room to gawk at me; few had ever seen a black widow patient. By now, the pain had crept into my lower chest, sending out waves of muscle spasms. [New York Times]

That got us to thinking: What does it feel like to be bitten by other potentially deadly animals?

Here, for example, is how a young mother from San Diego described the intense pain of being bitten by a rattlesnake:

Brooke O'Neill was walking with her family — her husband and their 2-month-old daughter — when she wheeled the stroller over a snake lying on the sidewalk on Saturday around 8 p.m. as the sun was setting.

She felt something bite her leg but the initial bite wasn't overly painful. She said she screamed and pushed the stroller away and that's when her husband, Brian, heard the rattling…

"Within minutes I felt tingling and numbness in my fingers and hands, then the leg, then it traveled up to my face" she said. "Then within ten minutes I was paralyzed from the neck down, couldn't feel anything." [NBC San Diego]

In one of the more horrifying descriptions of an animal attack I've read about, a man told the Guardian that he was almost torn into two by one of the Zambezi River's deadliest animals — the hippopotamus:

I remember looking up through 10 feet of water at the green and yellow light playing on the surface, and wondering which of us could hold his breath the longest. Blood rose from my body in clouds, and a sense of resignation overwhelmed me. I've no idea how long we stayed under — time passes very slowly when you're in a hippo's mouth.

The hippo lurched suddenly for the surface, spitting me out as it rose. Mike was still waiting for me in his kayak and managed to paddle me to safety. I was a mess. My left arm was crushed to a pulp, blood poured from the wounds in my chest and when he examined my back, Mike discovered a wound so savage that my lung was visible. [The Guardian]

And what about the ocean's most fearsome predator, the shark? A 47-year-old German woman vacationing in Florida who had the misfortune of a shark encounter (the exact species is undetermined) said, "On a scale of 1 to 10, the pain was a 15."

In her first interview since being pulled from the waters off Vero Beach, Fla., Karin Ulrike Stei recalls the moment she was grabbed by a force she couldn't see, but which was the most powerful and painful she's ever felt.

"I never saw it," she told TC Palm of the incident on May 9. "It never surfaced... It was so powerful and so big I knew it had to be a shark." [Daily Mail]

Another shark attack victim, this time from Hawaii, described his experience a bit differently. He didn't feel a thing.

"It bit me. It was a quick bite. It thrashed around a little bit. And then, boom! Gone," he told Hawaii News Now by telephone…

"My first thought was that it was one of my stupid friends coming behind me and trying to scare me, grab me and shaking me," he said. "I saw the blood. My only thought after that was just, 'Oh, God! I got to get to shore.'"

Kerrigan said the major damage is to his calf.

"There's multiple deep lacerations. They had to sew a lot of the muscle back together. I got real lucky. It didn't break any bones. It didn't cut any arteries or anything," he said. [Hawaii News Now]

There's also the black piranha, whose unnaturally large jaw muscles allow the creatures to "exert bite force equivalent to 30 times its bodyweight, a feat unmatched in the natural world," according to the Daily Mail. People taking a dip in the Amazon have reportedly had their fingers and toes snapped right off thanks to the fish's prodigious chompers:

In fact, relative to their size, piranhas outperform even prehistoric monsters like Tyrannosaurus rex and the whale-chomping megalodon, a massive shark that preceded the great white, said [a recent] study. [Raw Story]

That brings us to the most painful animal bite in the world, which belongs to the bullet ant, a small insect native to Nicaragua and Paraguay. The insects "are known as bullet ants because victims of their stings claim that the sensation of being stung by one of these ants is similar to being shot," according to Yahoo:

Their stings can cause nausea, fainting, dizziness, significant shaking, and paralysis of the afflicted area. Being inflicted with many stings from bullet ants can result in death. Researchers estimate that it would take 30 stings per 66.2 pounds to kill a person. That means that roughly 60 stings could kill a 132-pound person. That being said, these ants' stings are not as dangerous as that of some other insects, but they are considered one of the most, if not the most, painful stings one can receive from an insect. The pain from the sting does become less debilitating after about four or five hours. However, the pain can last for more than 24 hours. [Yahoo]

Their bites are so powerful, in fact, that local tribes would use them to stitch up minor wounds. After placing the ant near the cut so that the creature bites down, they would immediately tear off its body, leaving its clamped head and mandibles in place as grotesque bio-sutures.

Chris Gayomali is the science and technology editor for TheWeek.com. Sometimes he writes about other stuff. His work has also appeared in TIME, Men's JournalEsquire, and The Atlantic.

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