Nathaniel “Coyote” Peterson holds a Cicada Killer, which he let sting him, in Northern Texas. Mario Aldecoa photo

It’s not for nothing that Nathaniel “Coyote” Peterson is known as the King of Sting.

Since launching his YouTube channel, “Brave Wilderness,” in 2014, the bearded adventurer in the Indiana Jones leather fedora has screamed, gasped and panted his way to viral fame, after tendering his arm to be stung by a parade of poisonous insects with such fiendish nicknames as the “bloodworm,” the “murder hornet” and the “executioner wasp.”

By some measures, Peterson has become more popular than ever during the pandemic lockdown, with nearly 2 million additional subscribers flocking to his channel for a reliable dopamine fix since March.

With 17.5 million subscribers, “Brave Wilderness” ranks 234 in a field of more than 31 million YouTube channels. Social Blade estimates Peterson earns as much as $294,000 a month from online ads, confirmation that what he calls his “extreme content” hits a nerve in more ways than one.

“For someone like my daughter, who’s in grade school, and her friends who watch YouTube, I’m a bigger star to them than Leonardo DiCaprio,” Peterson, 38, said in a recent interview.

His most successful videos — including “STUNG by a BULLET ANT!” (nearly 50 million views) — are variations on a simple formula. Against a tropical background, set to loud, suspenseful music, he gets stung, writhes in pain, flashes back to say a few things about the insect, and returns for a wriggling close-up of beady eyes and antennae and the lingering money shot: the stinger sinking into his flesh.

Adding charm to these otherwise horrific scenes is Peterson’s personality, alternating between comic bravado and humility. He’ll look at the camera, shaking his head, as if to say, “Why would anybody do this?”

His answer, he says, is for the sake of entertaining education, targeted mainly to an audience ages 5 to 15. However intense the pain, he never uses profanity, and each video includes a warning: “NEVER APPROACH OR ATTEMPT TO HANDLE WILDLIFE ON YOUR OWN.”

With every episode, he says, “I want someone watching to say: ‘That was a little crazy; that was a little extreme, but I now know this about this creature and I’m a lot less afraid of it.’”

This year, Peterson got his own TV show on the Discovery Channel’s “Animal Planet,” a rare crossover feat he compared to “getting drafted by the pros.”

He hoped it might be a step toward his dream of becoming “the largest animal adventure brand on the planet — and in history,” but the run ended in April with no plans to renew. It’s not certain why, but one thing was clearly missing: Not once in 18 episodes did he get stung.

Since then, he has faced an identity crisis. After his last insect encounter — with a giant Asian hornet in Japan — he announced that he intended to change things up: no small challenge, he conceded, for “someone whose identity has become synonymous with getting bitten and stung by stuff.” He’s not averse to more pain, he insisted; he has simply exhausted the list of the most compelling bugs, and risked getting repetitive. After all, in a medium that thrives on shock value, how do you top the executioner wasp?

Thursday, September 24, 2020