Animal attacks: The bite of the centipede

Last updated 06:00 11/08/2014
Anthony de Villiers

CREEPY CRAWLIES: These are no wee garden wrigglers, but highly mobile, aggressive pencil-thick creatures.

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While it's monkeys that are often the cause of tourists' animal issues, Anthony de Villiers finds that centipedes are different kind of vicious.

I was togging up on the beach on Atiu, Cook Islands, ready to enter the ocean for a photo-shoot.

I slipped on a glove (so as to be able to grip coral underwater) when a centipede, clearly outraged at having fingers rudely thrust into its adopted lair, let rip with two enormous venom-injecting mandibles, right into the soft skin at the base of the index finger.

The pain was so sharp and distinctive I at once called to my wife "centipede bite, I'm home!", and flung myself on the scooter to bump my way back over the windy track to our accommodation, after ripping off the glove to confirm the culprit's identity.

One had to marvel at the potency of the venom. Dosed with panadol, I writhed in bed as shooting pains stabbed the length of my arm whilst localised sensations at the sight of the bite throbbed and ached.

In a day the hand had swelled so much I couldn't make a fist. It throbbed, burned, itched and chilled cyclically, remaining that way for a week.

These are no wee garden wrigglers, but highly mobile, aggressive pencil-thick creatures.

An Atiu resident tried to stamp on one but it moved so swiftly that he merely imprisoned its tail, leaving the rest of the body free to curl over the sole of his jandal and sink its business end into his foot.

The bite was so severe he took the next plane to Rarotonga to admit himself to hospital.

Not long after, an Atiu a student of mine arrived in the classroom with a bandage covering an eye and encircling his head. He'd picked up his pillow that had slid to the floor one night and a centipede lodged in it had pierced him on the eyelid.

He advised me to always use a torch if I went to the bathroom as centipedes were active during darkness.

Dismayed at the prospect of a centipede climbing the leg of my bed and getting cosy at the dead of night, I thereafter stood the four legs of my bed in ice-cream containers half filled with cooking oil. Voila!

Two years later we moved to Rarotonga, the incident forgotten.

One afternoon I grabbed my running shoes from the veranda, stuck a naked foot into the left one and felt what seemed like a cold, rolled up leaf in there. I pulled out the foot and stuck in my hand to pull the 'leaf' out.

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Hah! I'd done it again!

"Centipede, Mister?" called out one of my students in class the next day as she observed me struggling to write on the board with a hand the size of ripe mango.

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