2,997 ... 2,998 ... 2,999
Note: This is a sidebar to a feature story about the killer-bee invasion of the West, headlined: The Buzz Business.
Counting killer bee stings is a tedious chore. Usually the total is estimated, but one person gets exact counts - Justin Schmidt, a research entomologist who's spent 22 years at the Carl Hayden Bee Research Center in Tucson, Ariz. Schmidt has a mischievous air, a twinkle in his eye, and keeps dogs in a freezer, because the dogs were stung to death and their bodies are like pincushions still holding all the tiny stingers. To do the science, Schmidt says, "you need someone like me who will actually count them."
Using forceps on one dead German shepherd, probing the fur and mouth for more than 17 hours, Schmidt pulled out exactly 3,305 stingers. When I ask him how he does it, he chuckles and answers, "one at a time."
In another freezer, Schmidt keeps a big jar packed with killer bees (he extracts their venom, one at a time) and a bag of mice (killed by his injections of venom). Pulling together those research threads, it was Schmidt who determined the formula for what it takes to finish off any animal, whether a dog or mouse or person: roughly 10 stings per pound. Or, about 2,000 stings to kill a healthy 200-pound man.