One problem many people contemplating a move to Hawaii consider is how many and what types of bugs in Hawaii they are going to encounter in their new home. Though I can catch a cobra, krait, or coral snake with my hands, I’m no fan of bugs that bite. I avoid them like the plague. Hawaii doesn’t have any venomous snakes, but they do have some biting and stinging bugs, some of which you are likely to encounter (fire ants, centipedes) and some you likely won’t see, like scorpions.


Big Centipede, on of the worst bugs in Hawaii.

Image Copyright CyberCom, Inc.

Ok, lets start with the worst thing I can possibly imagine getting bitten by in Hawaii – the lowly centipede. Centipedes come from the genus, Scolopendra, and there are three types in Hawaii. Scolopendra subspinipes is the only centipede to fear. The other two are harmless – Lethobius sp. and Mecistocephalus maxillaris (Gervais). I’ve been bitten by a large and a small Scolopendra. Both hurt a lot, and I can’t say which hurt worse. I do know the orange S. subspinipes centipedes can get to nearly a foot long. I’m not joking, I’ve seen numerous 10-11 inch centipedes on the sidewalk in Maui at dusk, near my home. I thought they were snakes, they were so big. They range in size from 1″ – 12″.  Centipedes scare me more than spiders, much more.

I have had centipede families living under my carpet in Hawaii – twice. Both times it was near the restroom, where the floor is frequently wet. I must have killed twenty of the buggahs, they were hard to see at only about an inch and a half in length. One got me in the morning as I had my coffee, it ran across my sandal covered foot and got my ankle. Not a great way to start the day. Once, I felt something moving in my inner thigh beneath my shorts and – you guessed it – a small centipede.

Probability of Encountering – High. They are very common in Hawaii and they seem to not mind a bit moving in with you to your home. They also enjoy cruising through the grass at night concerts – I have seen a couple people bitten while sitting on towels and blankets and watching musical events outside on the grass.

Bites – A bite that lasts a second or more, and they all do because centipedes don’t let go until you beat them senseless, starts with a slow burning in a very small spot at the bite-site. The pain location then grows to a couple inches in diameter. It can be excruciating, depending where it bit you – if it got you where you have a lot of nerve endings like the fingers or toes, it will hurt more.

Outcome Prognosis – Good. I’d say more than 90% of centipede bites heal up without any sort of complication. It’s like a strong bee sting. If you are allergic to the venom, or if the beast got you good, you could possibly end up in the hospital with an infection. I have seen feet swelled up very large from a bite in the case of allergies or sensitivity. My bites healed in 3-4 days.

Precautions – Keep your residence clean. I mean, clean it at least weekly. If there are any damp spots in your home, make sure you caulk whatever you need to, or dry it up some other way to keep centipedes from camping out there. They love warm, and dark environment. Block the area under your doors so they can’t slip in from outside. Don’t sleep on the floor.

Note – the guy with the large centipede on his arm is my friend in Thailand. He’s pretty fearless, but you should NEVER attempt this. I think he probably removed the pincers from this one. 

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flying cockroaches in hawaii

Roaches can have really long antennas, just like this one.
Cockroach by 邰秉宥 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. Image may have been resized or cropped from original.

There are nineteen different species of cockroach in Hawaii, and only three of them are often near humans. The three types are the American (Periplaneta americana), the German (Blattella germanica), and the Surinam (Pycnoscelus surinamensis).

I don’t know why people are so afraid of cockroaches, they don’t bite very often. This is one thing I’m not very scared of, I’ve seen so many I am accustomed to them I guess. One time I was coming out of a dream in my bed at my dorm room at Hickam Air Force Base, and I was kissing a girl in my dream. It was heavenly. Her lips were soft like pineapple sherbet, or something. As I came to and opened my eyes, I realized I wasn’t dreaming. But why were my lips still tickling? I had a giant cockroach on my lips, probably trying to get at the pieces of food stuck between my teeth! I smacked my own face and jumped off the bed cussing a storm. My roommate woke up horrified he was going to die because he didn’t know what had transpired. True story. I hope you know I’m giving you my worst stories ever for these bugs, you are not likely to have the same experience. ;)

So, cockroaches are all over the place. They fly. They crawl. They eat whatever food is around, even if it’s stuck in your teeth. They don’t have venom, but apparently they can inflict some sort of bite. I have not been bitten by one, and I’m knocking on wood right now.

Probability of Encountering – High. Guaranteed. Most residential buildings have a routine spraying schedule. You can be sure that nice accommodations are spending good money to keep the place bug free. Still, you’ll see some.

Bites – They bite, but rarely. I think only when you’re sleeping and roll over on them or something. OK, a bit of research turned this up from Orkin – the pest control specialists – “Cockroaches are omnivores that eat plants and meat. They have been recorded to eat human flesh of both the living and the dead, although they are more likely to take a bite of fingernails, eyelashes, feet and hands. The bites may cause irritation, lesions and swelling. Some have suffered from minor wound infections.” So there, nothing major. Apparently roaches don’t bite people unless there is a shortage of other food to eat.

Outcome Prognosis – Minor wound infections as a worst case scenario. For the record, I’ve never seen anyone bitten by one, or with bites after the fact.

Precautions – Like centipedes, you have to block up every hole in the walls or under doors, around light fixtures, and windows. Do not sleep with the windows open without a screen, or you WILL be visited by flying bugs at night. Cockroaches are known to spread disease and they are generally very dirty bugs. If you have an infestation, don’t ignore them, get them cleaned out right away.

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There is one scorpion in Hawaii, it is the ‘lesser brown scorpion’, Isometrus maculates. A sting causes pain and swelling and is similar to a bee sting. If you are allergic to the venom, you will require immediate hospital care – so watch for any symptoms out of the ordinary swelling and pain.

Probability of Encounter – Low. I’ve only seen one while camping at the beach. One in six years.

Bites – Cause swelling and accompanied by bee-sting like pain.

Outcome Probability – As long as you’re not allergic to the venom, you’ll be fine.

Precautions – Don’t leave shoes outside. Check shoes for resident scorpions, dirty laundry, anything that touches the ground. If you camp, zip the tent.

Note – there is a bug called the Pseudoscorpionida, or ‘pseudoscorpion’. It lacks a tail and venom stinger, but otherwise looks very much like a scorpion. If in doubt, don’t pick it up!


In particular, the Stinging Nettle Caterpillar (Darna pallivitta) is a real pest in Hawaii.

Caterpillars are cute and fuzzy, but there are some species, the D. pallivitta is one, that will make you scream in pain if you are stung by it. The spiny hairs release an irritant to the skin that causes intense burning and itching later as the burning wears off. I have been stung by a caterpillar in Florida and Thailand that were both intensely painful. Caterpillars can cause more pain than any bee I’ve ever been stung by. Beginning in 2001, these caterpillars have made their way across the Hawaiian Islands and are now on Oahu, Maui, Big Island, and recently, Kauai. If you are allergic to the irritant, you can have trouble breathing and require emergency care. Problem is, you won’t know whether you’re allergic to the chemicals the caterpillar produces until you are stung.

Probability of Encounter – Low. Even if you are hiking a lot on the trails, you probably won’t encounter this caterpillar. I hiked often – 50 times per year, and was never affected by this stinging caterpillar.

Stings – There is no stinger like a bee, rather, the irritants are located on the spiny hairs of the caterpillar. All it needs to do is touch your skin lightly to cause intense pain.

Outcome Probability – Most people will be fine after the pain and itchiness goes away. Some will have allergic reactions and require medical treatment. If stung, pay attention to odd symptoms like breathing problems, sweating, cloudiness of mind. These things may indicate you are allergic to the venom and should get help immediately.

Precautions – Cover up your legs and arms when hiking, and be extra cautious as you are gardening. These have been found on palms, weeds, grasses and other foliage, so they could be just about anywhere.

Stink bug Nezara_IMG_0132_edited-1 by Carla Kishinami is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. Image may have been resized or cropped from original.


Hawaii has a lot of other bugs obviously. Many of them bite, but I think most people are aware of bees and spiders and there is no need to go into any depth about them. Hawaii does have the black widow and brown widow spiders – so caution should be taken when in cellars, or outdoor sheds and other dark places. Their bite is necrotic and can cause complications, possibly even death. Fire ants can cause a wicked sting for a short while, then insane itchiness for a night or two. Bed bugs? Who doesn’t have them? ;P

The major harmful terrestrial pests, you’ll find above – cockroaches, centipedes, and scorpions. Just be aware and take some precautions and you’ll be fine, like the other 1.292 million residents on the Hawaiian Islands! Don’t let your fear of bugs in Hawaii turn you off the idea of visiting or moving to the Hawaiian Islands. There are ways to deal with them and lessen their impact. Do whatever it takes, just come and see the islands!

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Peter Kay