What the hell bit me?
January 30, 2013 5:48 PM   Subscribe

Do house centipedes bite? Because I can't figure out what made a meal of me...

When disrobing for my shower today, I realized I had several bites all over me: a cluster of five around my collarbone, a couple a bit lower, three at the side of my waist, and one a bit further down.

Before anyone says bedbugs, I dealt with this pest a few years back (at a different abode a few states away -- packed up all my stuff, gassed it, and moved across the country). These don't look like bedbug bites (despite the clustering) because they're not swelling to giant welts (as they did during that dark period). They also don't really itch. Furthermore, as a bedbug survivor, I have made it a policy to lay down bedbug traps (i.e., climb-up interceptors) beneath every piece of furniture in every apartment I've lived in since. I also use a passive interceptor, stuck to the back of my (encased) mattress. (Yes, paranoia dies hard.) I check them regularly; I checked them again today. No evidence of any bedbugs, or bugs of any kind minus a tiny spider.

The ONLY vermin I've ever seen in my apartment are house centipedes. These bastards are constantly around; I usually see about one a night, more than that in warm months -- and yesterday, it was unseasonably warm. So perhaps the house centipedes came out to play, and one got stuck in my shirt? Eek. But do they bite? I've found conflicting info online.

More generally, anyone have ideas about how to figure out what did me in? Obviously the traps designed for bedbugs isn't going to catch this culprit.
posted by artemisia to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
House centipedes eat other insects (silverfish, maybe little spiders? Can't remember exactly), I don't think they bite people. Had them in an apartment a few years back, have seen them fall from the ceiling onto my housemate (bahahaha) but don't remember any bites.
posted by Lemurrhea at 5:49 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Centipede bites are intensely painful. I think you can rule that critter out, given your description.
posted by nacho fries at 5:56 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

House centipedes can't bite through skin, but they can sting you. It usually causes mild swelling and itching (as opposed to a "regular" centipede, which can be very dangerous). Treat it like you would any other mild insect bite/sting, unless you're experiencing significant negative effects or complications.
posted by amyms at 6:02 PM on January 30, 2013

Ah, I was thinking of the big nasty buggahs we get in Hawaii. Different beast. Good to know.
posted by nacho fries at 6:07 PM on January 30, 2013

I guess my concern is not so much the bites themselves, as what might have caused them -- and techniques for finding out via some kind of trap I haven't laid.

(Also, perhaps some of my trepidation stems from the fear that someone will come in here and say, BEDBUGS HAVE LEARNED TO EVADE YOUR PUNY TRAPS, HUMAN!)

In short, do you know any likely culprits? And in my shoes, what would you do about this evidence of angry unwanted roommate/s that I haven't done yet?

(For the record, today I changed the bedsheets and my clothes, vacuumed/mopped/dusted the whole place. And of course, the bedbug traps are already in place, and have been since I moved here.)

((Last update, lest I thread-sit.))

(((Also, this is the first day I've been able to say, "I'm glad I don't live in Hawaii!")))
posted by artemisia at 6:14 PM on January 30, 2013

It would really help if you could tell us if you can see any place where there is a puncture. Maybe we could have a picture?

I'm not saying it's a spider bite, but when I was bitten by a spider it was obvious because I had 2 tiny dots where its fangs had got into my skin. Same when you get a mosquito bite -- you can see the location. So whether or not you can see the puncture (and what size it is) can give a clue to the size of the insect. IIRC, bedbugs are too small to leave distinct puncture marks, whereas a centipede most certainly would.

Also, have you considered hives? I know you say there's no itchiness, but once I had what I thought was a mystery bug (specifically because of the randomness of the spots, though later when the spots kept moving I thought I had an alien bug hiding out in my clothes for 3 days), and when I later realized it was hives, it made total sense. It was the first (and only) time I had hives.
posted by DoubleLune at 6:27 PM on January 30, 2013

You have bites, and you found a spider. Was it in the trap on your mattress? If so, I'd say case closed.
posted by lollusc at 6:36 PM on January 30, 2013

Sounds like a spider, or maybe fleas?
posted by katypickle at 7:06 PM on January 30, 2013

Tiny spiders do bite. So do mosquitos, lice, fire ants, fleas, noseeums, chiggers, as well as your nemesis...bed bugs. Centipedes can bite but are generally more painful than you describe (hmm, baby centipede?). They may not stay around in the room, however. Kind of impossible to say who did the deed w/o more info/pics.
posted by artdrectr at 7:06 PM on January 30, 2013

Spider bites do happen (had one on my head, once, I apparently rolled onto it while I slept. Gnarly and crusty series of sores for a week or so.)

On the other hand, necrotizing fasciitis happens, too... what seem like little spider bites are actually bacterial infections of the skin that get way out of control. If it doesn't abate in a few days, or it gets worse, or you develop a fever, go see a doc soonest. New studies on spider bites indicate many "brown recluse" bites are necrotizing fasciitis.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:43 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding keeping a close eye on it, and adding that what my husband thought were a series of bites was actually shingles. So yeah, could be any number of things.
posted by moira at 8:01 PM on January 30, 2013

House centipedes eat other bugs. If you see them daily, then presumably they must be eating something. So there's probably other bug species in your house.
posted by User7 at 6:41 AM on January 31, 2013

also, is is a clean welt or a little crusty? I once thought I had spider bites, and when I finally went to the doctor, it was shingles!! hadn't really hurt or itched (yet), so I guess I was really lucky we caught it! was a big cluster on my shoulder...
posted by acm at 7:30 AM on January 31, 2013

Tiny spider bites. I know they bite even at that size/age. Keep an eye on it in case, my mum got bitten by a spider once, within 15 mins she had angry red lines up her arms from the bacteria in the bite she had to go on massive antibiotic doses.

Its a long shot but I once got a weird rash on my collar bone when I changed to a retinol face cream, seems my head flopped down in my sleep and the cream rubbed off making welts.
posted by wwax at 7:55 AM on January 31, 2013

When I get a wayward flea under the sheets I often end up with little clusters of bites as you described. How long have you lived in your place? Do you have carpet? Flea eggs are surprisingly hardy. I once moved into an apartment that had been vacant for a couple of months, slept on the carpet the first night, and woke up in the morning covered in flea bites.
posted by garden hoe at 12:14 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the suggestions, everyone! Everyone who has seen them thinks they're flea bites, and indeed they do greatly resemble some of the images supplied online by hapless flea victims.

Since (sadly) I don't own pets, don't have carpet, and have lived here for a while, it's kind of puzzling. But there are certainly cat owners in my building, and the bites appeared after I had used the laundry room, thus possibly exposing myself (or my clothing) to a stray hitchhiker. That's the working hypothesis for now, at least.

Pet owners, advise me! Should I set off a bomb, or do stray fleas die on their own?
posted by artemisia at 1:03 PM on January 31, 2013

I live in the country and have seen a lot of different bug bites, and this doesn't really sound like spiders, fleas, house centipedes, or anything like that. My thoughts:
- trapped flea is indeed possible like garden hoe said
- a few indoor mosquitoes, even in winter, unless you can rule out sources of moisture and heat like leaky pipes and boilers.
- new bedbug nymphs, but I'll trust your judgement on that.
- a very real possibility: a skin infection or possibly contact dermatitis from something on your sheets or clothes.

I'd run some laundry through with your sheets and clothes and see where things go.
posted by crapmatic at 5:46 PM on January 31, 2013

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