Centipede Bites: The Worst Hawaii has to Offer

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One of the wonderful things about tropical Hawaii is the lack of typically evil tropical critters. Critters that are poisonous, or gigantically grotesque, or both.

On land at least, there is a distinct absence of such critters. The worst we were told about were some nippy spiders, as well as the dreaded centipede. Although venomous, they don’t carry the type that is poisonous to humans, but they can indeed pack a punch with their bites. Many people have landed in hospitals with baseball-sized wounds from the swelling, begging for something to deal with the pain.

Well, in our trial by fire here in Hawaii during our first week, we have already become acquainted with the centipede bite.

centipede bites - ouch
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This post was originally published in 2007. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.

Kelly awoke one night with a series of “ouches” that woke me up too. Thunderstorms had been berating us through the night (as usual for us), so his first impression was that he was being shocked on his ankle, and he was somehow conducting a lightning strike. The pain continued as he eased into consciousness, at which point he realized he had probably instead been bitten by something.

I too, was feeling a significant amount of pain on the back of my left hand, as well as my right bicep. I was tired enough, though, to try to sleep through the pain, as I figured it was something inexplicably muscular.

Hawaiian centipede bites can hurt!

“Maybe it’s a centipede…”

It was when Kelly tossed out the “maybe it’s a centipede” phrase that I leapt from bed before he could finish the sentence.

We tore apart the bed, looking hard for something we could identify as the culprit, as we nursed and cursed our wounds. We both had local swelling and continuous burning pain. Kelly likened his pain to that of a cigarette lighter being held to his ankle, and I was just too tired and confused to identify my pains.

Of course finding nothing, we cautiously and nervously crept back into bed for a rotten night of tossing and turning carefully so as not to disturb the verifiable layer of centipedes crawling over us and waiting to for the right moment to attack.

The following morning we showed Rick our wounds, and he verified that they were indeed centipede bites. He wasn’t so sure about Kelly’s wound – he said it might have been a certain type of spider that can leave ugly blistery crescent-shaped marks, but Kelly’s didn’t quite look like that either. The thought of being attacked by not one but two ugly critters whilst sleeping at night certainly did not put our minds at ease for the next few nights of restless sleep!

Both of us were lucky in that our centipede bites weren’t as bad as they can be, since the centipede(s) were quite small (Rick could tell by the spacing of the bites – they dig in with their two front fangs to bite, not their tail pincers as most people think).

Apparently centipedes here can grow to eight inches in length and almost half an inch wide. Now that’s a bite that yields baseball-sized swelling and hospital-worthy pain.

But Centipede Bites Are Rare

The irony of the whole episode is that centipede bites are apparently quite rare here. Rick says he may see one or two in a year, and has developed something of an immunity to their bites. Chris had never seen the likes of a centipede or spider, and hadn’t been bitten by anything more than a mosquito in his seven months here.

But us: no. We must get bitten within our first week, whilst still trying to learn how to just plain survive here. All we can say to this experience is at least we aren’t starting out in a place like Costa Rica, where the weather is just as oppressive, the bugs are just as plentiful, but there they carry poison and disease, and we can’t even communicate in the same language.

I have to wonder if our time here is preparing us for other less hospitable places in the world, or scaring us away from them.

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21 thoughts on “Centipede Bites: The Worst Hawaii has to Offer”

  1. LOL! I was a young 2nd Lt. in the army on a field exercise in the Kahuku military reserve. Being an officer I had a closet size tent, cot, and mosquito net. In the middle of the night a centipede crawled up the inside of the net and bit me. I was later chastised by my aide for allowing the mosquito net to touch the ground, “That’s a bozo no-no, Sir!”

    • @Costa Rica – Thanks! I hope you come back later and check the Site out some more! We’re headed for Central and South America before too long, and Costa Rica is high on our list.

  2. Hello! i want to ask, what is the most dangerous centipedes, and what to watch out for, cause in the next year i want to fly on the Hawaii and I’m scared to be honest! Thanks!

    • Hi Richard,
      Don’t worry about the centipedes! if you’re staying in a relatively populated area you probably won’t see any. I don’t know if any particular centipede is more dangerous than others, but rest assured that none are venomous! So a bite (if you do get one) may hurt, but you’ll live. 🙂

  3. I visited Hawaii for three weeks. The first three days were in oahu. On day two I hung my bathing suit cover up in a tree. Later when I went to put it on a small centipede was in there. Oh my the pain. I saw red. My husband said people were covering there ears as I walked down the beach to the hotel for help screeching. I had two fist size large welts on my inner arm and the remnants of the centipede and hooks still hanging out. ( I must have squished it in reaction to the bite . ) anyhow. It stung for almost two weeks off and on. But like the author here, what luck. Day two!

    • Hey Denise,
      Yikes! I’ll bet you shook off all your clothes thoroughly every time you got dressed after that! 😉

  4. Live in the Pupukea area of O’ahu and we’ve had three or four centipedes so far this month (It’s the 10th of June) but a piece of paper towel and applying some bug ? squishing pressure and your problem is solved.

    Our biggest problem is that that we have swarms of cockroaches and termites in the summer and neither of them squish easily.

    • Hi Steve,
      Centipedes are fast! I’m impressed that you can get them to stay still long enough to do the paper-towel-squish.
      And I had a rough encounter with termites in the jungles of Peru, so I feel you! My understanding is that they must be dealt with using gasoline around the foundations and any area where they’re hanging out. (At least, that’s what the folks in the jungle did).

  5. Appreciate that relay of what others in jungles are doing for Termites.

    We are deep in the jungle on O’ahu and I’ll try anything to thwart these boogers.


    • I’m coming to Oahu in October and really want to experience the natural part of the island. Any suggestions or tips?!

  6. Hi! Just wanted to let you know that the critter in the picture with the yellow background is a millipede not a centipede. Millipedes are sweet and don’t bite. Please do not be confused and kill them. Mahalo!

    • Hi Raven,
      You are totally right! Thanks for pointing this out. The picture at the top of the article (with the hand next to it) is a centipede (and not even as big as they get, either!).

  7. I was in my teens and sleeping on a mattress on the floor. There was a sharp pain and I got up and saw a huge centipede crawling away quickly. I tried to hit it but it cleverly crawled where the floor met the wall. It escaped and the pain was really bad and my body felt very hot. I lay down and could not move for 2 hours. I learnt recently that this was paralysis due to the toxins. There was a big bite mark of 2 dots one cm apart. Now that I am living in a house again I kill the little centipedes in the toilet, the only damp place inside the house. There might be larger ones under stones or bricks in the garden.

    • I didn’t realize they live in the toilet! This is good to know.
      Sleeping on the floor is killer. I did that in rural Thailand and narrowly escaped a nasty encounter with a scorpion. Luckily I had a bug net that tucked under the mattress to prevent creepy crawlies from joining me in my slumber.

  8. We were only in Hawaii for a few days and a giant centipede came right in the living room of the house we were renting for the week. Thing ran right at me! I jumped and it changed direction and I almost landed on it with my bare feet! I’m not easily scared. I’m usually the one taking care of the spiders and such. But when a foot long centipede charged me, I jumped just like on TV. lol. We got it out with a broom, but I’d bet good money I wasn’t the only one in the house that checked their sheets that night before bed!

    • Terry,
      EEEEEEEEEKKKK! I’m with you. They’re fast, unpredictable, and horrifically ugly. Especially the big ones!
      Years later, I was house-sitting in Grenada and after my FIRST night there, I awoke to refresh the dog’s water bowl and there was a foot-long centipede in it (thankfully dead). The memory is seared into my mind. Ha ha!

  9. I lived on Kauai for 15 yrs, only got bit once. The centipede had made it up the stairs and was under the welcome mat. I slipped off my slippahs and stepped on it barefoot. It bit me on my big toe / ball of foot where it couldn’t get a deep bite. I chased and squished it with a scrap of wood then scrubbed the bite vigorously with running water. Thankfully not much pain for me. Moved to OK in 2007 since the economy was going to take a dump and the cost of living is half that of Hawaii. Besides we left behind centipedes and huge cockroaches. Miss the geckos though.

    • Hi Joanne,
      What a lucky strike that the bite wasn’t deep! I adore geckos too….I always miss them when I’m not in the tropics.

  10. Visited Hawaii and on the first night I stepped on a centipede while shuffling to the bathroom in the dark. Pretty sure it was only able to do a warning bite before I kicked it across the room! It still swelled, stung, and burned for an hour or so. And was sore the next day. Can’t believe with the whole hotel room, I found the centipede.

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