Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Centipede: friend or foe?

I begin today the following question:

Are centipedes poisonous?

Primo and Seconda were sitting out in front of my parent’s New Jersey house, digging in the dirt and catching bugs. The dirt is about the only thing that my parent’s “country” place has going for it and we like the kids to avail themselves of it when they can. Stuck in the middle of central New Jersey, nowhere near a beach or river or lake, all there really is to do is loll around in the grass and catch creepy crawlers. So Primo and Seconda were blissfully doing that, letting centipedes wriggle around in their palms, and I was recounting this to my mother on the phone since it struck me as one of those very peaceful, lovely moments of a child enjoying simple pleasures, the kind of moment that should warm a grandmother’s heart. Instead she shouted

“What’s the matter with you? Don’t you know centipedes are POISONOUS!!”

“I find that hard to believe,” I retorted, with no basis for argument whatsoever besides good common sense and a compulsion to disagree with my mother.

“No, no, that’s not true,” I repeated.

My mother’s counter-move was, as it always is, putting my father on the phone.

“What do you know about it?” he shouted, “I’m a doctor!!! Do you know how many people I’ve seen in the ER with centipede bites!!”

Now I knew he was shitting me. My dad is a cardiologist and the vast majority of his patients are over 60, not the most likely victim of a poisonous centipede bite. Plus, I don’t think he’s ever administered care in the ER.

“You are maniacs!” I shouted, “CENTIPIEDS ARE NOT POISONOUS!”

I hung up, ran inside, and googled “poisonous centipedes” And guess what readers?

Centipedes are totally fucking poisonous.

Just look at what the Texas Agricultural Extension Service of A and M have to say about them (and who knows better than they, being in Texas and being agro-experts): “Like all centipedes Scolopendra can inflict a painful bite with a pair of poison jaw […] Each walking leg is tipped with a sharp claw capable of making tiny cuts in human skin. A poison may be dropped into the wounds resulting in an inflamed and irritated condition. The best rule of thumb is NEVER HANDLE CENTIPEDES.”

I did not add the capitalization. The Texas Agro people put it in there themselves. Which is to say they feel very strongly about it.


That leads me to my next question:

Are the wriggly, many-legged creatures my kids play with even centipedes?

I mean, the website describes centipedes as “fast and ferocious predators” and a snail could beat the suckers my son was playing with to the finish line. Unfortunately, since I am not technologically savvy, it did not occur to me to take a picture of the creature at hand, so there is now no way to settle the matter. I will say this: Primo ran inside a minute later, exclaiming, “Seconda squashed the centipede and then I smushed him and all this green liquid came out! Which is lucky because green is my favorite color!

Poisonous or not, green liquid is nothing to mess with.

“Go wash your hands right now!” I ordered.