Earlier this week, I went through one of the most terrifying nights of my life since moving to Hawaii. It’s taken me a couple days to recover sufficiently to be able to write about it, and while part of me would like to “sweep it under the rug” and forget it happened, I feel as though I owe it to all of the other unprepared folks who will at some point be standing in my (trembling) slippers, so that you can go into this situation armed and ready with info and perhaps a wee bit more confidence. I’m all about helping a sista’ (or brah) out, even when it involves re-visiting dark — very dark — memories.
So. It’s 10:14pm. I’m blissed out on my couch in a banana “nice” cream coma after a very full day of condo cleaning, photo shoots, and yoga. The only light comes from my computer screen and my pink crystal salt lamp, but out of the corner of my eye I see movement. A dark shape, creeping between my poi balls. At first I think it’s an unusually large gecko, but then I realize that it’s slithering like a snake. SKINK!! But wait… I’ve never seen a skink in Hawaii. I don’t even know if there ARE skinks in Hawaii.
If only it had been a species-confused gecko who identified as a snake… but no. The next instant it registered and I snapped out of the nice cream coma (and bliss) and onto the top of the couch as it slithered underneath it.
The most freakishly huge centipede I’ve ever seen had somehow found its way into my beautiful, centipede-free Maui home.
Now. In case you weren’t sure, this is NOT an ideal situation. The centipedes we have here in Hawaii are different from the “house centipedes” found in certain other parts of the US, whose ‘pinchers’ are typically too weak to break human skin. Compared to those, our Hawaiian centipedes are sumo wrestlers. Depending on the size, they can make you feel as though you’ve been stung by heaps of bees simultaneously, or like you’ve been shot by a shotgun. Or, you know, they can kill you. Granted, the killing option rarely happens, but I’d prefer that it had never happened.
The short story: they can do some serious damage, even the little ones… and my intruder, naturally, had to be freakishly huge.
So I’m on top of the couch, centipede is under the couch, and no joke, I’m ready to hop on the next plane out of my little island paradise. It’s the only time in my year and a half in Hawaii that I’ve felt that way and it passed within… a few… hours, but…it was pretty intense. I’ve grown accustomed to geckos hopping out of my blender when I go to make my breakfast in the morning, and roaches snacking on my dragonfruit peels, and even the occasional cane spider making it’s way across my bedroom ceiling, but I really really really don’t like centipedes. Maybe it’s something about the millions of legs? Or their shotgun-shot bites? Or the fact that (because of those millions of legs) they can move 16 inches in 2 seconds?
I have to interject a disclaimer of sorts here: As a permanent vegetarian and temporary vegan, I try to practice ahimsa (non-violence) in every area of my life. I’d love to say that this really and truly extends to every area and that when a creepy-crawly enters the sacred safe space of my home, I carefully capture it and carry it outside to release it into its own sacred safe space, but that would be a lie. So here’s the ugly truth: I will talk and practice ahimsa all day long, but when a centipede (or even a roach or cane spider) invades my safe space — that ahimsa practice goes out the window. When I encounter a centipede on a hiking trail, I respectfully give it the right-of-way and continue around it. I am happy to co-exist on this beautiful island with these other residents…as long as they stay outside. But I can’t handle having them in my house. Like, an entire-body-shaking kind of can’t handle. It’s just how I am. Getting close enough to smash one traumatizes me enough – to actually capture it and carry it outdoors is way more than I’m capable of at this time. Maybe I’ll grow into it eventually 😉 But for now, this is the raw, gritty truth of what my ahimsa practice looks like…and I’m okay with that.
Back to my freakishly huge late-night invader: he was bigger than my finger span (which is more than half a foot) and thicker than my pinky finger. He was more like a small animal than an insect. I hopped off the couch to turn on more lights and grab my slipper (OluKai’s come in handy for all sorts of things.)
In my last house, we shared the space with numerous centipedes and scorpions, and one of my roommates kept a hammer in the corner of the living room so it was readily available for centipede/scorpion smashing. Some of my other friends keep machetes around for the same purpose… but all I had was my slipper.
If you ever find yourself in this situation, my first piece of advice would be to call someone else to handle it. But if that’s not an option, you need to kill it (unless you’re a braver soul than me and can capture and release it.) Trust me – you do not want one of these ending up in your bed…or your clothes… or really anywhere near you. With a bite from a large one like this, you’ll most likely end up making a trip to the hospital.
I, obviously, killed mine with the slipper. It was hard. And traumatic. I was still shaking when I woke up the next morning.
So. Some centipede facts and advice that hopefully won’t give you nightmares:
- If you can capture and remove it rather than killing it, that is always the best option.
- If, like me, you can’t capture and remove it, there are several ways to kill it.
- Smashing it, like I did, is an option, but not the best one as it really is incredibly difficult – they are coated in an armor that seems to be made of steel.
- Never step on one unless you are wearing completely closed shoes – with all of those legs, they are remarkably “agile” and can move unbelievably fast.
- I have a friend who always handles the centipedes who find their way into his house by grabbing hold of them with tongs and dropping them in a bowl of water with a bit of dishsoap mixed in, drowning them.
- As I mentioned before, some people use a machete or knife to cut them up, but be aware that even after you cut one, it can still run around… so then you might have 4 centipede parts running around rather than just one. If this happens, don’t think that the head portion (with the pinchers) is the only segment you need to worry about – the back portion of legs is also venomous. Also, keep in mind that even if you cut or kill it, the pinchers may be able to bite for several minutes afterward. I would suggest never handling one with bare hands, even after you think it is dead. Tongs work great for disposing of a dead one, as well.
- If you kill it by smashing or machete-ing, the smell (centipede blood?) can attract other centipedes, so be sure to thoroughly clean the area.
- If you have one in your home but are unable to capture/destroy it (or choose not to,) know that they can climb walls, and love dark spaces – closets, clothes/bedding left on the floor, beds, shoes, etc. Two of the most common places that people seem to find them in their homes is in their beds, or in clothes (that they happen to be wearing.) This happens when clothes or bedding (or suitcases) are left on the floor, and centipedes hop aboard to startle you later on. If you’re a tourist visiting the island, never leave your suitcase unzipped on the floor. Many of the resorts and touristy areas are pretty good at keeping their areas bug-free, but I clean vacation condos part-time and I find them fairly frequently.
- They eat small bugs, other centipedes, and small animals.
- They are insanely sneaky and can fit through very small spaces. They can enter your home through air conditioning units, or shanghai their way in aboard potted plants that you’re moving, or on your backpack after a trip to the park/jungle/mountains, etc. They also like to hang out along the bottom of sliding doors, and just the quickest opening of the door is enough for them to slither in.
- They like dark, damp areas and are most active around sunrise and sunset.
- They can regenerate legs. So don’t injure it and then leave it, thinking that it will die… you need to completely take care of it, whether it’s through removal or extermination.
- They can live a few years. So if you decide to co-exist with one in your home, don’t expect its life cycle to end within a day or two.
- And a little about the dreaded bites… Centipede bites can be excruciating, particularly bites from larger ones. In addition to the heaps-of-bee-stings and shotgun-shot analogies, I’ve heard bites (from the big ones) described as being worse than childbirth without drugs (so you might want to re-think that co-existing thing…) When they bite, they often don’t like to let go. The bites can cause fever, numbness/paralysis, nausea, anaphylactic shock, and extreme swelling. Warm compresses make it worse. Cold compresses, aspirin, vinegar, and straightaway sticking the injured area into an overripe papaya are helpful, but there’s unfortunately no “quick fix.” Taking a trip to the ER for a few shots of lidocaine is probably your best option, and be sure to keep an eye out for infection over the next few days.
And that’s it! I am going to attempt to forget about the existence of centipedes for the rest of the day. And whether you’re visiting or living in Hawaii, I wish you a centipede-free experience. Or, at least, a centipede-trauma-free experience.
Oh, one more thing… I was hoping that they were solitary creatures, but a few hours ago a friend told me that they typically travel in pairs. So if you don’t hear from me in a couple days, you might want to come looking…
**After this incident, I of course had to research whether or not there are actually skinks in Hawaii. Apparently there are, although I’ve yet to see some. They’re not native to the islands, but traveled to Hawaii with Polynesian visitors many, many moons ago.
***The photo at the top of the post is a smaller version of my home-invading centipede that I encountered on a hike a couple of months ago. Taking a photo of my invader was the last thing on my mind.