Poisonous Insect Bites in Hawaii

The bites of certain insects in Hawaii can range from being just a nuisance, to having a severe life threatening reaction. Screens on doors and windows as well as using repellents containing DEET will help you avoid these creatures. Wear gloves working outdoors when lifting wood, bricks or other items that spiders like to hide under. Check yourself for bites and adhered ticks after spending time outdoors in long grasses in the wilderness areas. Also, be sure to check inside any shoes left outdoors for insects before putting them on.

Here are some of the insect bites that we should be concerned with here in Hawaii:

7″ long Hawaii Centipede

Centipede Stings – In Hawaii we have a very common insect to be on the lookout for, a reddish/brown centipede that are normally anywhere from 4 to 8 inches long. They have a pair of specialized hollow legs just behind their head that are attached to muscular venom glands and are used to inject venom whenever they are frightened or feel threatened. Immediately wash the affected area with soap and water and apply ice to relieve the pain and swelling. If you experience any difficulty breathing seek medical attention immediately.

Ticks – Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever are two diseases carried by ticks. Ticks like to attach themselves around the moist areas of the groin and armpits. It usually takes an attached tick up to 36 hours before the transmission of Lyme Disease. The first signs you will begin to see is a circular rash developing upon the skin. Fortunately for now at least, we do not have to worry about these diseases in Hawaii.

Black Widows – Their bites can be painless or very painful. Black Widows can be identified by the red or orange hour glass marking on their undersides. Look for the fang marks or if you begin to suffer from severe muscle cramps, nausea, vomiting and seizures, seek out immediate medical attention. You will need administration of anti-venom treatments.

Brown Recluse – Another poisonous spider which has a red or dark brown color. This bite is usually painless though it will have severe consequences. The skin will redden and then turn white at the bite sight. A bull’s-eye blister will begin to form. Immediate medical care will be necessary.

Mosquitoes – Though their bites are usually just a nuisance with itching, mild reddening and swelling of the skin, but they can also spread the West Niles Virus and Dengue Disease. Again screens on windows and doors, the use of a insect repellent and wearing long sleeves and pants will reduce the opportunities to be bit. Also makes sure to not have any standing water around your house, such as in a wheel barrow, buckets or depressions around your yard.


Stinging Nettle Caterpillar Stings – Yes there is a Caterpillar that can be harmful to your health here in Hawaii. Nettle caterpillars grow to a maximum length of one inch and are covered with spines.  The Nettle caterpillar’s spiny hairs have an effect on human skin similar to that of fiberglass. They feed on over 45 species plants.  They are also a health concern due to the stinging spines which cause burning and itching sensations to the skin. Wash the area immediately with soap and water to reduce the initial pain. An oral antihistamine or hydrocortisone cream may help stop itching and swelling. Skin reactions vary from a red welt to severe swelling lasting a couple of days. If you experience difficulty breathing or are stung in the eye seek medical attention immediately.

Severe reaction to any insect sting or bite may cause anaphylactic shock. Any swelling around the eyes, tongue, lips or throat. Any difficulty in breathing, shortness of breath, dizziness, severe cramping or the development of hives, you should get immediate medical attention. Call 9-1-1 or use an Epi-pen, if one is prescribed for you.

About Dr. Anderson
Dr. Anderson holds doctorates in both Cardiovascular Biology and Microbiology. He is a Wilderness Paramedic (WEMT-P), Diving Medical Technician (DMT), Basic Life Support Instructor/Trainer, Advanced First Aid & Wilderness Emergency Care Instructor/Trainer, and PADI Master SCUBA Diver from Honolulu, Hawaii.

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