Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I had two brushes with death today

Summer is now upon us and if, like us, you live in southern Japan next to a wooded area that means one thing: giant, poisonous bug season.

I had two separate run-ins with large poisonous insects today, which quite frankly scared the crap out of me though in fairness only one of them had enough poison to kill me.

The first was in the morning when I went to the window to shake some sand out of my backpack. While I was there I met up with a Vespa mandarinia japonica, or as it is commonly known, the "Japanese giant hornet".

In Canada we think of bees and hornets as hazards but not life threatening hazards unless you are allergic to them. The Japanese giant hornet, however, is a totally different species. It has a wingspan of about 6 cm and is about the size of a hummingbird. And it kills about 40 people a year here. As wikipedia says:

"It has a very potent venom which is injected from the 6.25 millimetres (0.246 in) stinger and attacks the nervous system and damages tissues of its victims."

And guess what! They've made a nest in the trunk of a tree near our building! Lovely!

So anyway, usually these things keep away from me and I keep away from them. But as I'm shaking out the bag one of these things buzzed me and looked like it wanted to come in the window with me. I fell over backwards in sheer terror and slammed the screen shut so hard I almost broke it.

Then this afternoon when I came home from work I discovered a massive mukade, or "Japanese giant centipede" on our doorstep. Again, in Canada we don't think of centipedes as big hazards, mainly because we don't have ones FIFTEEN CENTIMETRES LONG! Oh, and poisonous too of course, though their venom isn't strong enough to kill an adult human (it will screw you up royally though - the poison attacks the whole body and it can take weeks to recover from one).

I've had run ins with these before too, but never one so big as this one. They like moist places and I think it was under one of my planters when I startled it or something. You would think that, caught out in the open on a flat slab of concrete as it was I would have no trouble just stepping on it to kill it. You would be wrong. I brought my shoe-clad foot square down on it with all my might, but it just ran off like nothing had happened. It went under a blue garbage can, which I then removed and delivered the coup de gras, which was absolutely disgusting.

I didn't have my camera ready for either of these encounters so no pictures (the smashed up centipede carcass wasn't particularly photogenic).

This is what the Japanese giant centipede looks like though (this is about the same size as the one I dealt with): LINK

And here is a cheerful article from National Geographic about our hornet neighbors which reassuringly tells us that they have venom "which is powerful enough to disintegrate human flesh": LINK

So I am now in full-blown paranoia mode. First thing tomorrow morning it is off to the store to buy every single insect poison ever made.

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