Honolulu Lite


Monday, September 16, 2002

Machete makes mincemeat of a venomous,
multi-legged menace

The other day I killed an enormous centipede crawling through my house with a machete. How he got hold of a machete, I'll never know.

Actually, I had the machete, I just have a hard time not ripping off a Groucho Marx joke from time to time. (Groucho version: Last night I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I'll never know.)

I generally don't use a machete to kill insects inside the house. I find the wear and tear on furniture prohibitive. But when it comes to dispatching centipedes, the machete is my weapon of choice. (Actually, my real weapon of choice for killing centipedes is a heavy-duty electric jackhammer, but you really, really don't want to use that in the house. At least not if your wife is coming home any time soon.)

Machetes are good for killing centipedes because you can chop them into several pieces quickly, making it harder for them to escape. They still try to escape but the sections run around willy-nilly with no real choice of regrouping later.

This centipede somehow had gotten into the house, which is a major violation of the admittedly shaky Memminger-Centipede Articles of Coexistence. In a "land for peace" kind of deal, centipedes are allowed to exist in certain rugged, uninhabited regions of the family property, in recognition of their propensity to eat even more hateful insects, especially our co-enemy, the cockroach.

But when a centipede wanders into the garage, he knows he's going to meet Mr. Machete and get sliced and diced. To find one in the house was even more alarming. He was headed up the stairs to our living quarters in what I can only guess was some sort of misguided suicide attack.

Centipedes don't have to carry bombs or machetes to carry out attacks. They carry a self-contained weapons system, namely muscular venom-injecting jaws that are cleverly concealed on the harmless-looking end of the creature.

The Hawaiian centipede has long legs at its rear that look like giant pincers. You assume that's the business end of the bug. Wrong. Those are just legs that grab and hold its prey.

The venomous jaw is hidden on the other end, which no doubt has surprised many showoffs who tried to amaze his friends by picking up a centipede by the "safe" end.

A scientific description of what happens when a centipede bites a human notes: "Reaction to the injected venom can range from slight swelling of the immediate area to massive swelling of the affected limb. With the latter, medical attention should be sought."

Why the author of that passage decided to be so droll regarding medical attention, I don't know. It must be "research humor." Let's be clear: If you are bitten by anything -- a bug, a dog or even your neighbor Henry -- and your arm swells up like the Goodyear blimp, medical attention should not only be sought, but sought with a vengeance.

I distributed the various pieces of the centipede who dared enter our house throughout his homeland on the back-yard slope as a message to any of his comrades who may be considering a similar attack. I hope it will work. In eight years, this is the first time a centipede has tried something so rash. If there's even a hint that another breach of the household perimeter is afoot (and with centipedes, that's a lot of "afoots"), I'm prepared to launch a preemptive strike into their territory. Mr. Jackhammer stands ready.

Charles Memminger, winner of National Society of Newspaper Columnists awards, appears Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. E-mail

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