Honolulu Lite


Sunday, October 14, 2001

Nature in Hawaii bites
—and stings and gnaws

In Hawaii, every living thing (and a few things that aren't living) is food for other living things. (Unable to find wood or just looking for a challenge, some termites will tear into concrete blocks and car engines.)

Humans have done a pretty good job of keeping the island rid of large animals that would consider us part of the menu. Unlike citizens of the more adventurous states, we don't allow beasts such as cougars, bears and wolves to wander around off leash, attacking and eating any old thing they want.

But we are constantly being nibbled, chewed, poked, stung and gnawed upon by all manner of smaller creatures from mosquitoes and mites to mongooses and aggressive species of tiny, yappy dogs. If you lie still long enough, something is going to bite you. It's not personal. It's simply a way to find out if you are dead, in which case you are food.

If you are alive, you're still food, but harder to catch. For instance, an ant might bite you while you're sleeping just to sort of test the merchandise. But a colony of ants isn't going to try to consume you while you're wriggling around in bed. Some bugs have no intention of eating you, they just want to inject you with some kind of toxin that will remind you to steer clear of them in the future. Others, like scorpions, centipedes and earwigs are among the "mean" line of insects and will bite or sting you just for sport.

Generally, attacks by creatures in Hawaii are not fatal. The insects, especially, are only bothersome, which is why we call them "pests."

Local outdoor writers Susan Scott and Craig Thomas documented this "nature against man" drama in their book "Pests of Paradise." It's not a book for cringers. The methods of attack and armament of Hawaii's pests are laid out in creepy detail. And though the book is barely more than a year old, it's already dated. A chart listing Hawaii's animal-caused diseases lists dengue fever as "eradicated." Not any more.

More than a hundred dengue cases are under investigation on Oahu, Maui and Kauai. In disease control circles, dengue fever is what is called "a bad thing." It's spread by Asian Tiger mosquitoes, which also can spread yellow fever. Hawaii is not supposed to have dengue fever. It's just wrong. Dengue belongs in jungles where people live in huts on stilts on the banks of dirty, brown rivers. It doesn't belong in places like Kahaluu and Kaneohe where people on lanais cook teriyaki chicken over Kingsford charcoal.

But it's here. And now we learn that another new pest is in Hawaii: A caterpillar armed with hundreds of tiny stiletto-like stinging nettles.

I like nature as much as the next hunk of living protein but this madness has got to stop. We can live with regular old Hollywood-issue mosquitos and the occasional misguided spider. But there's been a standing rule about wildlife in Hawaii: It's here for atmosphere. It's not supposed to be really dangerous.

Nothing takes the fun out of barbecuing like the chance you could accidentally sit on a heavily armed caterpillar or contract a sometimes fatal jungle fever.

So, talk to your geckos. They've got to work harder to eradicate biting bugs. Drain any planters with standing water. And if you see a cute fuzzy caterpillar: Stomp on it.

Alo-Ha! Friday compiles odd bits of news from Hawaii
and the world to get your weekend off to an entertaining start.
Charles Memminger also writes Honolulu Lite Mondays,
Wednesdays and Sundays. Send ideas to him at the
Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Suite 7-210,
Honolulu 96813, phone 235-6490 or e-mail

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