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The Hawaii Centipede – Are They Dangerous? Do They Bite?


Hawaii is a beautiful island known for its exquisite nature. There is much to love about the tropical island — the climate, the culture and food, the palm trees and forests, and the beaches and warm ocean waters. It is an extraordinary place except for one thing — the Hawaii centipede!


Pesky insects and bugs throughout the world have painful stings, but the bite of a venomous centipede in Hawaii has instilled fear in its citizens and visitors. Citizens have grown accustomed to the creature, but tourists and digital nomads often wonder about the dangers of its bite. 

If you are a first-time visitor or new resident of Hawaii, do not fret. Though there are many centipedes, you should fear only one specific type.

hawaii centipede
The dreaded giant Hawaiian centipede Scolopendra subspinipes
Image by Yasunori Koide


Types of Hawaiian Centipedes


Centipedes enjoy damp areas, and the climate of tropical locations. The insects prefer moist environments and are common, bothersome pests in warm states. In addition to Hawaii, people commonly find them in Vietnam, Japan, Brazil and Australia. These areas offer a prime setting for the bug’s preferred damp habitat. 

There are over 8,000 types of centipedes throughout the world, and 25 of these species can be found in Hawaii. But only three types of giant centipedes commonly reside in Hawaii: the Lithobius, Mecistocephalus and Scolopendra.

Only one of the three has a painful bite, and the odds of enduring a venomous encounter are low. 


Lithobius

The kind of bug is one of the two centipedes considered safe and harmless.

The Lithobius centipedes are about two inches in length and are generally brown to maroon colors. They have 15 pairs of legs — a total of 30 legs tiny in size. The legs are not large enough to harm humans, and for this reason, people consider the animal harmless. The Lithobius uses its front claws to harm smaller prey. 

You can find Lithobius centipedes in warm, moist environments, like the underside of rocks, wet logs, and leaves.

are hawaii centipedes dangerous
Lithobius: Image by Palica


Mecistocephalus

Mecistocephalus is another common, safe centipede of Hawaii. The harmless centipedes are native to Sri Lanka and India and typically make their way to Hawaii via shipping containers. 

The Mecistocephalus have about 57-59 pairs of legs. Along with their typical 114-118 legs, they have a yellow body with a dark, red head. This centipede prefers the same spaces as Lethobius — warm, damp areas.

Mecistocephalus – Image: Panama Naturalist


Scolopendra

The Scolopendra is the dreaded centipede with the nasty, venomous bite.

People refer to the Scolopendra subspinipes as the Hawaiian centipede or Vietnamese centipede. How big are Hawaiian centipedes? This centipede can grow up to eight inches long and varies in colors from a dark brown body with yellow legs or a yellow body with orange legs. 

The Hawaiian centipede is fast with its 22 pairs of legs. It uses its sharp, front legs to claw into its prey and make the bite, injecting its venom. 

Scolopendra subspinipes: Image by Len Worthington


The Venomous Bite


All centipedes bite, but the Scolopendra especially has a powerful punch. 

The bite is known to cause searing pain at the injection site. The slow-burning sensation is usually localized to the bite area but can grow and become more painful depending on the location of the bite. Bites in areas such as the fingers and toes are considered more painful and intense. 

A bite can also cause swelling, pain, numbness, and nausea. A rash is likely to occur, along with skin discoloration and blisters. Due to a lack of oxygen and interrupted blood supply at the site of the bite, tissue necrosis is also possible. 

You should care for the wound to prevent the risk of lymphangitis, an inflammation or infection of the lymphatic system.

The Hawaiian centipede bite is painful and potentially dangerous. It may require professional medical care, but the venomous bite, though poisonous, isn’t fatal to humans. 


At-home Treatment for Hawaiian Centipede Bites


Do not be too alarmed if a centipede bites you. Aside from an allergic reaction, bites are quite painful but not fatal, and you can often treat them at home.

There are four main aspects to consider when treating a bite by a centipede: wound care, pain control, topical treatments for infection, and allergic reactions. 

If a centipede does bite you, you should start treatment by applying a warm compress to dilute the venom. Use ice packs to reduce any swelling and take medications to reduce the pain and inflammation. 

Keep the area of the bite clean and covered, and apply a topical antibiotic to avoid infection. 

Most bites are likely to heal within several days. If symptoms worsen, it’s necessary to seek professional medical treatment.

Any signs of an allergic reaction should prompt you to seek emergency care. Possible signs of allergic reaction are intense itching, dizziness, or a rash. Seek immediate care if signs of swelling of the lips, throat, mouth or tongue occur.


How To Handle Centipedes In Hawaii


To stay cool during extremely hot weather, centipedes may move to residential areas. Hawaii centipedes can climb walls and easily find their way into your home or hotel.

It’s best to avoid direct contact with a centipede. If handled incorrectly, the centipede can sink its claws into the skin. 

Do not step on them with bare feet or pick them up with your exposed hands. Instead, use a broom, stick or another object to remove the bug from the room. 

Protective gloves are an alternative option if you have no other tools with which to handle the centipede. 


Preventative Care


To prevent centipedes from invading your space, reduce excess moisture and limit clutter in your place of living. Centipedes can worm their way into your home if you leave anything open. Seal entryways such as doors and broken or cracked floors, and close windows to limit their access into your residence. 

Contact a professional pest controller if there is an infestation out of your control.


Hawaiian Centipede Myths


Due to the prevalence of these gigantic centipedes, local myths and superstitions have grown around these creatures in Hawaii.

You’ll often hear the Hawaiian centipedes travel in pairs. If you kill one of them in your home, their mate will come and look for the killer (that’s you). But much like the mamba snake myths in Africa, these big centipedes aren’t monogamous – so you can rest easy about being hunted down by an angry bug. Which is good, because honestly, finding one of these critters inside is quite enough!

You might also hear that when you find a giant centipede in your home it’s a sign that someone is jealous of you.


Conclusion – Are Hawaiian Centipedes Dangerous?


The bite of the Hawaiian centipede is venomous but not common. In most cases, it’s painful but rarely fatal. Practice safe protocols when interacting with any centipede.

Don’t have direct contact with the centipede, and steer clear of the Scolopendra subspinipes. Otherwise, enjoy your stay on the paradise island.


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