US entomologist Justin Schmidt has carved out a place in entomological history by putting together the Schmidt pain index to measure the intensity of insect stings. These range from a score of 1 the tickle of sweat bees (Halictus species etc) to 4 the kind of pain that makes you lie down and scream (bullet ant, Paraponera clavata). The pain index is referenced throughout the internet, but this is the Natural History Museum’s take on it.
Not wanting to be outdone I’ve decided to launch the
This is the opposite of a pain index, because none of the insects has a sting. They just look threatening.
It seems obvious now, that stinging or poisonous models might be copied by harmless mimics, to trick potential predators into thinking that they were painfully dangerous, but it wasn’t until naturalist and explorer Henry Walter Bates formalized it in 1861, that the idea gained widespread understanding. It is now known the biological world over as Batesian mimicry.
The Jones index of implied menace is an irreverent unpicking of Bates’s mimicry, aligned on a scale from Woah! to Oh how cute. At menace level 4 even the hardened entomologist might take a step back and stand cautiously for a moment or two as they size up the target insect. Menace level 1 just brings a smile to your face and the thought: “What pretty colours”. Even more so than Schmidt’s pain scale, my index is subjective in the extreme. But it works for me.
4. Hornet robberfly, Asilus crabroniformis.
Damn this thing looks pure evil.
3. Hornet moth, Sesia apiformis.
A moth? Really? Are you sure?
2. Phantom hoverfly, Doros profuges.
Sleek, but with that sinister-looking narrow waist and menacingly darkened wing edges….
1. Ant beetle, Anthicus floralis.
Looks a bit like an ant — if you squint.
Like Schmidt, I’m prepared to allow some latitude, breaking out from the 4-point scale, when necessary. The brightly coloured craneflies, Ctenophora, look creepy as well as being threateningly coloured, enough to score 3.5 maybe.
Most hoverflies would rank 1, although I might make an exception for Volucella zonaria, and give it a 3, if only because of its menacing size.
On the other hand conopids, which are visually superb wasp mimics actually look too cuddly, so only get 2, except for Sicus ferrugineus which, with its curled can-opener tail, looks a very sinister 2.7.
The brightly coloured wasp longhorn, Rutpela maculata, scores 2 when it walks, but a waspish 3 when it flies.
So next time you stare in wide-eyed startlement at some large buzzing bug, beetle or fly, which you first thought was a wasp, but now realize is a mimic, remember to take a moment during your stand-down relaxation to ask yourself the question: “Yes, but what Jones score did it elicit?”
Very good. The robber fly is a belter.