If I Knew What Was Lurking in the Underbrush, I’d Never Leave My House

Traveling is easily one of my favorite things in life. I absolutely revel in the chance to explore exotic locales, eat delicious ethnic food and experience the world in a way I never could through a television screen. That being said, there are some parts of travel that leave a bit to be desired.

Jet lag, travel inoculations, mystery illnesses, the TSA, outrageous expense…I could go on and on. When you’re a slave to wanderlust, you tend to take the good with the bad.

What’s a few bucks when you’re following the footsteps of Caesar in Rome? Who cares if you’re stomach’s a little upset when you’re watching the sunrise over Ankgor Wat? Why worry about bedbugs when you’re sleeping in a tree-fort under the starry African skies?

Wait, bedbugs?

Nothing brings me to a full stop faster than the threat of bugs, insects or arachnids. And what truly sucks is they’re impossible to avoid as they live pretty much everywhere, even the arctic tundra. As a world traveler, I’ve come to grips with my fear and found a surprising inner strength that allows me to handle almost any creepy crawly that nature throws at me.

But even I have my limits.

Here are five of the most terrifying insects that call this beautiful planet of ours home:

Amazonian Giant Centipede – South America and the Caribbean

giant centipede from Wikimedia Commons

Why is it that creatures with an unusually large number of legs are inherently creepy? Cockroaches are bad. Spiders are worse. Centipedes: Get it the hell away from me!

The Amazonian Giant Centipede (Scolopendra gigantea) is especially creepy – even as centipedes go – as it’s both carnivorous and, well…giant. They can grow up to a foot long, are very swift runners and highly adept climbers. Yes, you read that right, they can climb.

Why would a centipede need to climb? To catch bats, why else?

Deep within jungle caves, the Amazonian centipede positions itself near the center of the cave ceiling where it proceeds to grip the stone with its rear legs and dangle its forward segments into the cave below. The unsuspecting bats are snatched from the air in mid-flight and injected with toxic venom, succumbing to the poison only seconds later. The centipede then consumes the flesh from its prey over the period of an hour.

The Scolopendra gigantea is described as both nervous and aggressive, so if you’re unlucky enough to cross one, you may find yourself on the receiving end of a rather nasty bite. Fortunately, their poison is insufficient to kill a healthy human adult. However, that doesn’t mean you’re in for a walk in the park. Their venom has been known to cause symptoms such as pain, swelling, chills, fever, and weakness.

Bullet Ant – Central and South America

bullet ant by Dick Culbert on Flickr

I have a strange aversion to ants. No matter how tiny or innocuous, I am thoroughly creeped out by ants. I’m not sure if it’s because of their inhuman strength or the fact that they’ll form piles of hundreds of thousand tiny ant bodies, but something about them gives me a wicked case of the heebie jeebies.

The bullet ant (Paraponera clavata) is an ant I have no shame in admitting I am terrified of. These inch long insects are described as looking like stout, wingless wasps (lovely) and have the distinction of delivering the most painful sting the insect kingdom. The Schmidt Sting Pain Index measures the bullet ant’s sting at a ‘4+’, or comparable to “fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail grinding into your heel.” If that isn’t bad enough, the all-consuming pain is said to last for 24 hours, completely unabated.

The good news –if there’s any to be had – is that their sting is not fatal. You’ll just wish you died.

Giant Water Bug – North America, South America, Northern Australia and East Asia

Giant Water Bug from Wikimedia Commons

Apparently Jaws isn’t the only reason we need to stay out of the water. Making its home in freshwater streams and ponds, giant water bugs (Belostomatidae) range in size from approximately 1.5 inches to 4 inches, depending on the species.

Using their powerful front legs, they snatch up small fish, frogs or salamanders and then use their sharp beak to pierce their prey and secrete enzymes that liquefy the body tissues.

As they often latch onto the dangling toes of unsuspecting swimmers, giant water bugs have earned the delightful nickname “toe biters”. Much like the bullet ant, the bite is not fatal but it’s certainly painful, rating a 4 on the Schmidt Index.

Giant Japanese Hornet – Japan

Giant Japanese Hornet by Alpsdake on Wikimedia Commons

I refer to these insects as a flying nightmare, because that’s exactly what they are. The Giant Japanese Hornet (Vespa mandarinia japonica) measures in at around 1.6 inches, with a wingspan of about 2.5 inches. These powerful hornets can brutally dismember an entire colony of 30,000 European honey bees in a little under three hours. Why? So they can feed the soft squishy insides of the honeybees to their evil larvae.

Much like non-giant bees, wasps and hornets, the Japanese hornets are no real threat to humans unless they feel threatened.  However, when they do sting, their venom can cause serious problems and even be fatal to those who are allergic. Each year in Japan, 30-40 people die in from complications due to the sting of the Giant Japanese Hornet.

Human Botfly – Southeastern Mexico, Northern Regions of South America, and Costa Rica

human botfly by Geoff Gallice on Flickr

I’ll start with a warning on this one. Unless you have an extremely strong constitution, I wouldn’t recommend a Google search of the human botfly. It’s not pleasant.

There’s nothing quite as horrifying as the realization that something alive is burrowing under your skin and eating away your tissue. But that’s just what the larva of the human botfly does. They’re not necessarily dangerous but what they do is not only unspeakably gross, it’s also incredibly painful.

The adult bot fly lays its eggs on mosquitoes, ticks and other flies. When humans are bitten by one of these insects, the eggs are triggered to hatch and the maggots enter the skin through the hair follicle or through the bite wound and burrow in.

As the maggot matures, it swells under the skin and causes severe pain. Victims have been knows to feel the larva biting and wriggling around as it feeds. Because removal by unskilled hands can lead to infection, it’s best for botfly larva to be removed surgically by a doctor.

At which point the victim can go on with their life, well and truly traumatized.

I hope I haven’t scarred you too much with the knowledge that these terrifying creatures actually exist somewhere out there. I know I’ll be having a few more nightmares than usual in the coming nights. Whatever happens, don’t let it dampen your spirit for travel.

Because really, nothing worse than what’s lurking under your bed.

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