The onward march of the Island’s feared’ centipedes
It’s been a good summer for Bermuda’s population of the humble tropical centipede. Plenty of rain has meant an abundance of food, together with damp places for the creatures to make their home.
Often called the St David’s centipede because of the high number of the arthropods to be found in the East End, this species can attain a formidable length of a foot or more — making them more feared than loved.
Nevertheless, The Royal Gazette is calling on readers to share their pictures of one of the Island’s more maligned residents, plus the stories behind their encounters.
A rash of chance meetings with centipedes has had many speculating whether the many-legged creatures are enjoying a population boom.
Although its sting is notorious, the large tropical centipede’s bite poses no serious medical risk — but for one 36-year-old Bailey’s Bay resident, the experience proved instructive.
“I was out slug-hunting one night in flip flops when I felt a sharp pain on one of the toes of my left foot,” said the man, who wished to remain anonymous.
“At first I thought that I had stepped on a rose thorn, but much to my surprise I saw a little brown thing slithering off in the darkness. I had never seen a centipede before in my yard, and what are the chances that the first one I see bites me?”
Centipedes feed on small insects, and their venom, delivered by powerful pincers at their head, is said to be about as painful as a bee sting.
“After dispensing with the critter I felt a burning sensation emanating from my toe,” the man said. “I immediately went inside and Googled what to do in case of centipede bites and I ran it under piping hot water.”
Heat helps to break down the compounds in the sting.
“After several hours, the burning sensation had slowly made its way down into the rest of my foot, and the only relief was soaking the bite in a bowl of really hot water,” the man said. “Now every time I go out at night in flip flops, you had better believe I am watching where I put my feet.”
Government entomologist Claire Jessey explained that the centipedes are by no means exclusive to the East End.
“Due to fast, modern methods of travel however, this centipede has been transported to all the far reaches of the Island,” she said. “Individuals or nests of centipedes can easily hitch rides around the Island via the trash collection system or on horticultural debris collected from parks or woodland areas.
“This has meant that the St David’s centipede should not be regarded as being only a St David’s and St George’s problem.”
Centipedes usually enter houses by accident while seeking prey, and end up trapped — although they will make nests in damp, cool, protected areas. They can be dissuaded from entering a residence by keeping tall vegetation and debris back from walls.
Scant comfort for The Royal Gazette’s own Kyle Hunter, a St George’s resident who recently got a surprise house call.
Familiar with centipede sightings, he said he was accustomed to the animals bolting once they sensed a human presence.
“The other day, I was watching TV, and one must have crept inside — I felt this tickle, and I looked down, and a big long centipede was crawling over the top of my foot,” he said. The centipede beat a quick retreat, and Mr Hunter “spent the rest of the night with my feet up on the coffee table”.
Biologist Jack Ward, the first director of the Department of Conservation Services, said that one thing in the centipedes’ favour was the decline of the Island’s amphibian population: toads rush in where humans fear to tread.
“Centipedes are abundant generally in areas where there is no fresh water for toads, which are good predators on them,” he said. “We do have far fewer toads than we did in the past, so there may be some relation there.”
Readers with pictures to share of their brushes with the Island’s most feared East Ender are asked to send them in to our centipedes’ gallery, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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