Hawaii is blessed in many ways. It is, of course, an ultimate tropical paradise.
The beaches are spectacular, it has some of the best waves for surfing in the world, great hiking opportunities, a plethora of other adventurous activities, and the weather is of course awesome (if you don’t mind a bit of rain here and there). Hawaii is also blessed to be almost entirely free of dangerous land dwellers (the ocean is of course a different story).
There are virtually no snakes on the Hawaiian islands, except one that looks almost like an earthworm, and is equally harmless. The only poisonous spider lives exclusively in a volcanic crater on the island of Maui. There is, however, one dangerous little guy you have to watch out for: the Hawaiian centipede.
The Hawaiian Centipede – Scolopendra subspinipes
It’s also called the Vietnamese centipede, and its scientific name is Scolopendra subspinipes. Their bite is highly poisonous and extremely painful, to the extent they can send people to the hospital and, in rare cases, it can be deadly. Having spent a fair amount of time in Hawaii, I’ve seen quite a few of them. They like to hang out under rocks or in piles of leaves, so you know where to be especially careful of them. Recently, however, I got way too close to comfort to one.
I was camping on a secluded beach on the north shore of the island of Kauai. I’d just scraped out an area of thick leaves to clear a camping area, and had found three of the centipedes in the process. All of them I simply scraped up with my shovel and tossed alive back into the pile of leaves that I was creating, a little off to the side of where I planned to pitch my tent. After scraping out a large area, I then pitched my tent on the bare ground. I wasn’t at all concerned about the centipedes getting into my tent, since my tent doesn’t have any holes or open seams in it. So I figured there was no way they could get in there.
Later that night, after sundown, I got up to go to the bathroom (or rather, to make use of a nearby bush). Here’s where I made my mistake: I left the tent flap wide open. But it was only for a minute, so I didn’t think anything too dramatic could happen as a result. I crawled back into my tent, turned off the light and lay down to sleep.
Fortunately, I couldn’t sleep. After ten or fifteen minutes of laying there wide awake, I decided to read a book for a little while. I turned on my flashlight–to discover a huge, 8-inch or so long centipede clinging to the INSIDE of my tent, just a few feet away from my face.
I had a flash of fear…as well as of gratitude–grateful that it had chosen to park itself in plain view, rather than burying itself away in my sleeping bag or my backpack, where I likely would have encountered it in a much more painful fashion.
The first thing I figured was that I needed to get the hell out of the tent, while keeping my eye on it in case it made any sudden dashes for safety. Though I was shining my light on it, it wasn’t moving at all. That was good. I unzipped my tent and got outside; crouching in the darkness while keeping my light on the creature, and pondering how the heck to deal with the predicament.
There was no easy solution. It wouldn’t easily be scraped into any container because of its size. Besides, I didn’t have any such container, and didn’t want to take my eyes off of it to go find one. I couldn’t take a lighter to it or a knife, since that would also damage my tent. I had no reservations about killing it, since that was the only likely way to deal with it at that point. And besides, I knew that it had no problem causing bodily harm to me if given the chance. It was pretty much a shoot-out at this point. And I was going to make dang sure I wasn’t the one who got shot.
Finally, I came up with a plan. I would slap the outside of the tent directly opposite where it was clinging, causing it to fall onto the tent floor–and then I would squish it with a book. It was the only solution I could think of that had a chance of working.
I scooted my sleeping bag and camping pad into the corner of the tent, so that there was a big open area in the middle of the tent. Then I went for it: one slap, and sure enough, it fell onto the tent floor. And then, down came the book I had in my hand–twice in fact, two hard smashes with the book, both direct hits.
And then, it scurried off across the tent floor and under my sleeping bag, entirely unfazed.
Now, what to do? As quick as possible I grabbed my sleeping bag and scooted it aside so as to expose the centipede. There it was, still in perfectly good shape. It scurried over to the side of the tent. Then it went along the edge looking for cover, until it came to the corner, where it tried to bury itself away as much as it could. At least now I had it cornered, literally. Again I pushed my sleeping bag and camping mattress off to another part of the tent, so that there was a big open space anywhere the centipede tried to crawl.
Remember to zip up your tent
Next I grabbed my camping bowl, which was metal and had an edge to it. Hopefully that would be a bit more effective. I coaxed the menacing insect out from the corner with the book, and then tried to smash it with the bowl, focusing on the head area. Again, this seemed to do little. It continued trying to scurry to safety under my sleeping bag. So I swept it back towards the corner with the book, and gave it another smash.
This scenario repeated itself several more times; until finally I noticed that it seemed to be slowing down. I pinned its head with the side of the bowl and squeezed down on it, as its poisonous tale came up, trying to sting the side of the bowl. Finally, it became apparent that although it was still moving around a little, it didn’t have much life left. I was able to get it into the bowl making use of the book, while keeping all of my parts clear of its dangerous tail, which was still moving around a bit reflexively. I then got out of my tent, keeping my light shining on it to make damn sure that it didn’t jump out (and onto me) while I wasn’t looking. Besides not wanting to get stung, since no doubt its tail was still poisonous, I also wanted to know with 100% certainty that I’d actually removed it from the tent, so that I could actually sleep that night. Oh, and I made sure to zip up my tent after I got out. Then I walked off into the darkness and up a trail a little ways, and tossed the little fellah into some tall grass, where even if it came back to life it wouldn’t be bothering anyone.
So next time you go to Hawaii, have fun, enjoy the sun, sand, surf and everything tropical paradise has to offer…and always remember to zip up your tent!