Mukade – the terrible Japanese centipede

Before coming to Japan I had read about ‘mukade’: giant poisonous centipedes. They can grow to be up to 20cm long. They are hunters who eat cockroaches and other small animals. Here’s a close-up of a particularly handsome fellow that I found on the internet:

mukade close-up

And for size reference, a picture I found on the internet of some brave/crazy person with a mukade on their hand:

as you can see, they can be hughe

Half horrified, half fascinated, I wondered if I would encounter any mukade during my stay in Japan. I seem to be in luck: 4 days into my stay here, I have spotted my first mukade.

We were in the supermarket with Yasuko-san, someone from the relocation office that helps us with all ‘settling in business’. As we are checking out a drying frame for clothing, I see something out of the corner of my eye. It’s a mukade.

I crie out a warning. Instantly everyone in the vicinity is alarmed. Japanese women shriek in anxiety. Store personnel flocks to the crime scene. Calls to store department managers are being made. Meanwhile I’m trying to get a good picture of the mukade but it spots me and starts running in my direction (they are very fast!). I am forced to retreat. One dutiful employee tries to catch the mukade with a broom and a dustbin. But it outruns us all and hides beneath some shelves.

The search is discontinued. Still slightly anxious, we all return to business as usual.

it seems to be a small one, 10cm maximum

dutiful and brave employees trying to catch the mukade

everyone wants to see the mukade

where is it???

I have done some research about mukade. It is hard to separate myth from fact. But here goes… Apparently they like to hide in cosy places such as shoes, toilets, bed linnens, etc. Or alternatively they crawl up to you in your sleep (with a preference for body cavities such as ears or noses) or sit on the ceiling and fall down on unsuspecting victims. Their bite is very painful and when being bitten by a large mukade, it is best to see a doctor. They appear to be tough critters, very hard to kill, even after being exposed to bug spray, fire and boiling water. In Japan they are often used as a symbol for evil. They are most abundant in the rainy season, which is roughly from june to august.

I was glad to see a mukade once, but I think I’ve had my fill for a good while now. I’m terrified of finding one in my apartment. Would they be able to find their way up to the fifth floor? In any case, all rooms and especially the bed will get mukade sweeps on a daily basis.

I wonder what other exotic insects warm and humid Japan has in store for me…

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78 thoughts on “Mukade – the terrible Japanese centipede

    • I didn’t know there was a difference. Thanks for pointing it out! One of the things that I love about blogging, is how I’m learning new things all the time because of it :-)

      After a quick google search, I am able to enlighten anyone who is reading these comments and might wonder what the difference between venomous and poisonous is:

      Venomous organisms deliver or inject venom into other organisms, using a specialized apparatus of some kind (usually fangs or a stinger). The venom is produced in a gland attached to this apparatus. Mukade fall into this category.

      Poisonous organisms, on the other hand, do not deliver their toxins directly. The entire body, or large parts of it, may contain the poisonous substance. These organisms may be harmful when eaten or touched. Examples include certain types of moths and beetles.

      (according to http://insects.about.com/od/insects101/f/venomous-or-poisonous.htm)

    • Poisonous critters also include frogs, caterpillars, mushrooms and many types of plants. Tomatoes and potato plants, which are members of the Solanum family (which includes what we in the West know as “Deadly NIghtshade”), are poisonous except for the fruit or tubers themselves? Leaves, stems, roots – they’ll do you in. For the longest time, tomatoes themselves were considered poisonous. Lucky for us somebody figured that one out! Oh yeah, and don’t forget apple seeds – they contain cyanide!

      I have another diversion – our cat, a ginger tom, got attacked by crows and they tore him up pretty good. I don’t know if they were Jungle Crows or the more common Carrion Crows, but those birds are some bad-@$$ guys! Tora screamed himself so that he was completely mute for nearly a week, now he’s up to croaking some.

      Crow stories, anyone? Or should I start a new blog about the feathered rats?

        • That’s an interesting article! I have actually tried the grasshoppers when I was in Japan. We were walking through a small neighbourhood market in Nagoya and one of the salespeople offered me one to try. I’m not a squeamish eater and will try almost anything once. (I draw the line at endangered species though so I will not eat whale for example. But back to the grasshopper.) It was coated with a sticky, sweet brown sauce, like the ones in your first picture. The sauce had quite a strong flavour so that was pretty much the only thing I tasted. Other than that, the best way to describe it was ‘crunchy’. ^_^ Have you tried any of the bugs in your article?

          • That last one about crunchy, tasty insects. Well, yes we could all benefit from eating them, I suppose. Most buggsies are packed with protein. My house is a veritable fortress of spiders and other predators. We live in total harmony (well, exept for the mukade). I’ve munched on honeybees, crickets, grasshoppers, but I will draw the line at anything cold, slimy and squishy – like worms or some such …

  1. Theres another Japanese Cenipede (I forgot it’s name. But if it stings you it causes severe memory loss. Both distant and current memories,

    • That sounds scary! Listening to all these stories about scary bugs, I’m so glad I lived in an urban area around Nagoya, and not further south (where it’s warmer with more bugs) or in a rural area.

  2. I have heard mukade are smart enough to count to five… so you are NOT safe on floor 5. 5 is their favorite number. Dude- I’m just kidding. I think its safe to assume the 5th floor is the best place to sleep.

    What a little bakayaro! Those mukade are real pricks, huh?

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  4. As an exchange student in Japan, I was warned by most host parents, who are doctors, that large mukade are poisonous and lethal. Ironically, Ironically, while in a hospital emergency room for an injury, we see a 20-30 cm mukade run across the floor under some beds…And that was my first time seeing one.

      • Yeah, I guess mukade don’t care where they are … and 20-30cm was a HUGE one! We get maybe 12-14cm ones here. Haruko-chan, I saw a geji-geji (thanks for correcting me on that) high up the bathroom wall when I went there early in the morning. When I returned late afternoon, it was nowhere to be seen.

        I should turn this old farmhouse into a Japanese Bug Museum! I could charge admission and make a lot of money!

        • I guess sometimes not seeing a bug can be even worse than seeing one!

          The museum thing has potential. You could already start by photographing all the bugs you find, or making video’s of them and posting them online. I’m sure many people would be interested to see such a thing.

  5. Well, I suppose the “hair or the dog that bit you” might work, but for sure I’m not going to try it with mukade venom. And I definitely wouldn’t be choppingt them up. That releases a pheromone that attracts even more of them.
    BTW, found a medium-large mukade in my kitchen a few days ago, and a medium-size one in my bathroom this morning. It is September, so they should almost never around now. I wonder what’s up? But we’ve had exceedingly weird weather here in our neck of the woods.

    Jenna

  6. Oooooo we live in South Korea and I think it’s the same centipede we get here……. We do spray so they are at least dopey and yes I chop them with scissors….. Barbaric I know but fastest way to deal with them. I understand they have very good medicinal properties too but don’t like sharing my bed or my children’s beds with them.

    • I’ve read about far worse things done to mukade (boiling, burning alive, …). I also read that in the old days, people would drown them in oil and then use that oil to treat burns and (ironically) mukade bites.

  7. Was just in Japan and this last weekend I was out to eat with a friend. E were sitting in the zashiki (legs down under the table) when I felt a pinch on my big toe. My immediate response is to immediately brush off the small grayish looking spidery thing. But the stinging feeling did not stop. That’s when my friend tells me it was probably a centipede. We searched for it and found one ant, and one ant-like bug that, unlike the ant, was not afraid of the chopsticks I was using to pick it up. It had a huge set of pinchers. My toe felt like it was being stung repeatedly for hours. And no one knew how to treat it. But I’m alive!

    • If it was a small mukade (as I infer from your story) the bite will definitely not put you in any real danger. But it is still adviseable to seek medical advice upon being bitten. Are you still in pain now, or has it healed on its own?

      • Audrey, I know I lack a vivid imagination, but mukade and kumo (spiders) don’t look ANYTHING alike to me. If it was gray-ish and looked more like a spider, I’m guessing it was what the Japanese charmingly name “gudgi-gudgi” (“good-gee good-gee”) – it’s shorter than a mukade, with long legs that are short front and back and get long in their middle, to make the overall shape of the thing kind of oval. Scary-looking to be sure, but they’re not as harmful as mukade. I got the wrath of a gudgi-gudgi once, in the shower (what is it about my bathroom?) and although it hurt like heck for about 3 hours, I slabbed some bite-and-sting creme on it and that was the end of it.

        This summer, our scourge if you can call it that, is kumo, especially the Huntsmans – they are all over the place! The good news is, it is a white-hot summer down here in Iwakuni, and so the other nasties, especially the mosquitoes, flies, and meal moths, are creating a massive target-rich environment. Ah, the joys of country living!

        • I didn’t know there were huntsman spiders in Japan. Although I heard they are generally quite harmless to humans, the thought of giant hairy spiders gives me the creeps! At least they keep the amount of other scary bugs under control. But still, I cannot imagine finding one in my home! .∵・(゚Д゚)

        • *geji geji げじげじ (not gudge gudge)non harmful unlike the mukade, i had one in my shoe the other day. Over 10 cm, Nasty. I did not realize for 30 mins until it tried to escape! It took me and my staff all day to locate it.

            • I’ve got another creepie-crawlie for you, classified as a centipede by Google, anyway. It’s got LONG black legs, all the same length (not like a geji-geji) and its body is sort of speckled/striped. It was in my bathroom (AGAIN!!! that room!) and it was about 1-1/2 inches long. Looked scary enough that I just zapped it with the Kinchol insecticide spray and it dropped in its tracks, but I couldn’t find a picture of it on the spray can. Ah, the joys of country living!

              BTW, 9/16 I watched in morbid fascination as a spider trapped and killed a 1-1/2 inch mukade in her web in a corner of my kitchen, and the spider won the day! But it was pretty gruesome to observe … and the spider, legs and all, was only about half again the size of the mukade’s head!

          • You’re right, it’s gegi-gegi. I got the katakana wrong – sorry I’m getting ready for cataract surgery so I can’t see the accent marks too well.
            Does any know the other long-legged centipede with spots & stripes on its body?

            • Give me the kumo ANY day! Our house is old with may nooks and crannies and in the countryside; some rooms and places not visited frequently, and we not only have huntsman spiders, we’ve got the ones that spin webs, too. You should see the critters they get rid of. I was taught by my grandmother that it is bad luck to kill a spider, and now that I know WHY, I leave them alone. So far, not one spider has ever attacked or bitten any one of us humans or the cat.

              Never witnessed that a spider had ever killed or eaten a mukade, but I can tell you that kuro-ari will attack them with a vengeance!

              Wish I could say the same for those d@^^eD Tiger Mosquitoes. I’ll be nothing but a solid mass of itchy, nasty bites (which don’t go away for several weeks) forever!

                • Are the yabuka the same as the Asian Tiger Mosquitoes, the black & white striped ones? Because they are the ones who are making my life miserable. They will NOT stop going after you! And when they get you, the bites get horribly itchy and red, then when you scratch them they make big holes in your skin which don’t go away for many, many days. Yuck!

                  • Yes, yabuka is the same as tiger mosquitoes. I quote Wikipedia: “They are always on the search for a host and are both persistent and cautious when it comes to their blood meal and host location.” I hope the weather soon cools down and the mosquitoes go away.

  8. Nice Blog!

    I just found your post after a Mukade crawl under my t-shirt on my lower back while I was working on my computer late at night. I felt something tickling me and by reflex checking with my hand. At first I thought it was a grasshopper but when when I chased it, a Mukade fell on the floor and ran toward the door. I think its outside now, but I can’t sleep and can’t stop looking around. I wasn’t bitten but my skin is a bit red .
    There are many dark places in my apartment, why come at me ? Maybe because I am wearing a black t-shirt ?

  9. I live in Iwate and was taking a shower with my three year old son about two months ago when he says ‘look there’s a bug!’ There it was crawling on the wall, about as big as the one you saw in the market. Without knowing anything about them I washed it into the drain and smashed it in half with the little shower bucket, then threw it in the trash later. I later learned that you aren’t supposed to smash them as they release a pheromone to attract others, nor are you supposed to cut them in half, as the head half isn’t supposed to die. Fortunately we haven’t seen any since. And very fortunately I was in the shower not my Japanese wife.

    • Jon, the advice you were given about not smashing or cutting up mukade is correct, according to my Japanese friends. The only way to prevent the release of the pheromones is to burn them, (most of my friends use a long-barrel BBQ lighter) but in a house full of tatami-mat floors that can get a bit tricky! I’ve also had good luck with boiling hot water, but it still takes them a few minutes to give up the ghost. BTW, that’s how my hubby got into trouble; I had sprayed the one we found in the kitchen, and despite my desperate pleas he picked it up while it was still alive – and, no doubt, not in the best of moods.

      You live far north of me (I’m in Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture) in an old traditional-style farmhouse on the outskirts of the city. We are surrounded by woods, vacant lots, and community garden plots – mukade heaven!

      However, although Rainy Season was late this year, we haven’t seen any of them other than a couple of dead ones since my husband got bitten about 6 weeks ago. His right little finger, BTW, still isn’t right – it is still discolored and continues to burn and go numb by turns down the outside of his hand to beyond his wrist. Our fault for not seeking medical attention immediately; by the time he decided to go for help (about 3 days later) it was too late. So, I reiterate to all – if you get bitten, especially by a large one, GET MEDICAL ATTENTION ASAP!

  10. I’m having a hard time falling asleep, since I found one of these scary animals between my bed sheets. I fear this storry just made it worse ;) But, although there seem to be really a lot of them, acording to how many dead ones you can see on the streets, I’ve asked a lot of people here and so far haven’t met anyone, local or international, who ever got bitten by one of these fellows.
    And even if it happens, it will hurt (badly), but that’s it.
    I’m checking my shoes every time (seems to be the most likely case to get bitten), try to keep my apt clean (they are attracted by bugs e.g.) and try to stop worrying ;)

    best wishes and have a good time in Japan! Beppino

    • Your attitude on dealing with mukade seems great to me! Just check your sheets every night before you turn in and otherwise put it out of your mind. Don’t let it spoil your fun in Japan! ^_^

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  12. bejasus ! – and here I was reading up for my dream of living in rural Japan !

    I think you’ve given me nightmares – the dreaded mukade !

    • Every dream requires sacrifice! ^_^ I always say, if the local people can get used to it, why shouldn’t I? I do have to admit that I have never lived in rural Japan. Maybe I would be saying entirely different things if I found mukade in my bed or in my shoes on a regular basis.

    • Please don’t let mukade quash your dream of living in rural Japan. Trust me, there are many, many things that outweigh them.

      First of all, they’re pretty predictably seasonal; mid-May to mid-June is when you’re most likely to find them invading your territory. Secondly, they are solitary hunters; you will not see them running around your place in hordes like some misguided scene from “Arachnophobia” – BTW, spiders don’t run in hordes either, except the occasional newly hatched guys; they’re a little like baby sea turtles.

      But if you guys want a true horror story about spiders, let me tell you about the “Huntsman Spider” – or just Goodle it. They are the scariest beasties you can imagine, but totally harmless to humans and animals … and they rid your house of other nasties you’d rather not have – like flies, mosquitoes, roaches, etc. They do not spin webs, but run their prey down – hence the name. You just have to get used to big, mottled grey/brown arachnids that can span the palm of your hand and remain totally motionless until they see something worth going after (which won’t be you) or you startle them. And then, baby, you talk about greased lightning!

      We’ve lived in this farm house for 6 years, and in a house closer into town 10 years before that, and I can honestly say that in all that time and in both residences I’ve encountered maybe 2 dozen of them. Do the math. Mostly, they will just get out of your way if they can. To my surprise, mukade (or all centipedes, for that matter) are considered beneficial because they are predatory on aforesaid pests. The downside is their favorite munch-a-licious is earthworms.

      Want to hear about the giant leather-wing moths next? Bwaa-haa-haah!

      Peace to all, Jenna

  13. I found one this Memorial Day weekend in Independence Kansas I tried to copy a pic on to here but it wouldn’t let me. Are these common to the United States ?

    • I am not sure if mukade exist in the United States. Of course mukade are a kind of centipedes, and I think centipedes exist all over the world. So maybe you just saw a local kind of centipede?

    • without seeing a picture, I can only guess. If the critter was medium-bodied with very long legs, then it was’t a true mukade. What we have here in Japan, true mukade, I don’t think exist anywhere else, so in Kansas you’re probably safe. There are also millipedes, which is I’m thinking what you saw. They look scary but are harmless to humans.

      Centipedes, our true MUKADE, on the other hand. are not. My husband’s right little finger, one month after the bite, is just atrocious. It is still black/purple/.blue swollen, and now the joint (the middle one) is becoming what I can only describe as becoming necrotic. It’s calloused, white crusted, and he goes from white-hot sensation to total numbness from his little finger down the outside side of his hand to above his wrist. Stubborn man that he is (he underwent totally successful heart surgery in February), he will not seek professional medical attention. It may be too late anyway. I’m just worried he’s going to lose that finger, or part of it.

      DON’T GET BITTEN BY MUKADE! IF YOU DO, SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION AND I MEAN, IMMEDIATELY! Firstly, even, if you see a mukade perfectly still, do NOT assume it is dead. It probably is not. Make sure you kill it first, by whatever remote control you can grab, before you attemp to handle it.

  14. I live in Yamaguchi Prefecture, in a big old Japanese farmhouse, and I can tell you that mukade are the bane of my existence here. My husband just got bitten on his pinky finger by a pretty large one (about 5-1/2 inches) and he’s in considerable pain. I had zapped it with a special mukade killer spray, and while the thing was still writheing around (they are devlish hard to kill) he picked it up in a paper towel, but it bit him anyway. Now he has a very painful bite. As some others have noted, the mukade bite is seldom fatal, but they are quite painful for several days and can put small children or older folks in the hospital for a day or two.

    The mukade in the supermarket was most likely running toward the person because you were casting a shadow, and they always run toward dark places, out of the light. Someone else was right; they are quite fast and aggressive but they’ll only go for you if they are threatened. Our bedroom is on the second floor, and I’ve never seen one up there. They mostly appear in the kitchen sink or the bathroom (moisture). The one that got my husband came out from under the dishwasher.

    Now I’ve got the ultimate fright story. While I was bare-naked in the shower one morning (in Japanese bathrooms, the entire room is the shower/soaking tub), a 6-incher ran right out from the floor drain, around my ankle and over my foot. Jeepers!

    • That story gives me the creeps! It sounds even worse than when I was living in South America and used to find 7 cm cockroaches in my shower :-s

      That part about the dark places makes sense. When I moved away from the mukade in the supermarket, it hid under the shelves.

      During my research for this article, I read about someone who picks up the mukades with chopsticks (rather than for example with a paper towel). The article did come with a warning to only try this if you feel very confident with chopsticks.

      I guess living in beautiful rural Japan has its price ^_^

      • Chopsticks are a good idea only if you’re quite good with them (think Mr. Miyagi in “The Karate Kid”). My Japanese friends tell me boiling-hot water is a sure thing, but that can be problematic unless you keep a kettle on the stove all the time or your tap-water gets really hot really fast (mine, fortunately, does). Anyway, another neighbor uses long BBQ tongs to grab the mukade, and then his wife fries them with a BBQ charcoal-lighter gun. You could do this by yourself, but then again it requires the necessary equipment to be where you need it, when you need it. Mukade don’t wait around for you to zap them!

        My husband’s pinky is now about the size of his thumb and looks like the underside of a thunder cloud. Yecch! He is feeling the pain about halfway up to his elbow.

        Johnny D is right, mukade deliver the venom by forcipules – a modified pair of legs right behind their heads. They do not bite-they have no true fangs, and they do not sting. Those long appendages at their hind end are strictly “feelers” – well, if the end of your body was as far away from your head as theirs are, wouldn’t you want some sort of warning system?

  15. Hi there! I could have sworn I’ve visited your blog before but after browsing through a few of the posts I realized it’s new to me.

    Nonetheless, I’m definitely delighted I found it and I’ll be book-marking it and checking back often!

  16. Hi; I, too, used to live in a remote area of Kumamoto and I can say in my village the mukade were definitely aggressive. Seeing 5-10 a year was the norm and they were very hardy. Trapping them and pouring boiling water on them, though pretty gruesome, seemed to be the safest (and quickest) way for me to kill them. I tried putting boric acid down regularly but it didn’t seem to help. The only thing that did help was letting hand spiders (have you met those yet?) hang out in my house because they were the only things that could take on the mukade. The good news is if you live a few floors up in an apartment complex, you’ll probably be fine. The people who lived a few floors off the ground or in a more urban area never saw mukade, whereas those of us who lived on the ground floor or in a houses in more inaka type areas dealt with them a lot. If you want, here is a picture of the first one I encountered in Japan (scroll down to it) when it crawled up my leg: http://japangea.blogspot.com/2009_05_03_archive.html

    • Scary! I’m so happy I never had one in my house. I guess it’s thanks to living on the fifth floor. Although I would love living closer to nature, the abundance and toxicity of Japanese wildlife scares me a little.

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  20. The centipedes don’t sting with their tail. It looks like a stinger, but it might just be for show — to distract potential predators from the actual dangerous end. The first set of legs behind the head is actually the poison source.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centipede
    “Centipedes have a rounded or flattened head, bearing a pair of antennae at the forward margin. They have a pair of elongated mandibles, and two pairs of maxillae. The first pair of maxillae form the lower lip, and bear short palps. The first pair of limbs stretch forward from the body to cover the remainder of the mouth. These limbs, or maxillipeds, end in sharp claws and include venom glands that help the animal to kill or paralyse its prey.[5]”

    I’ve watched them “bite” pencils and sticks. You can actually see drops of poison when they attack. Ouchhh!!!!

  21. Hi, I worked in an isolated place (we didn´t even have electricity for instance) in the mountains of Kumamoto´s countryside during the rainy season for 3 years.
    It was normal to see mukades 10 times a day maybe (and there was a good load of snakes too, etc.).
    I think there´s no much myth in the information you gathered, both things happened to me, once a mukade dropped itself from high on the wall and fell over my hand as i entered the toilet and closed the door, it didn`t have time to bite me. And also once a mukade climbed up to my futon and up over my pillow and started chewing my pinky, which woke me up. Both times they were baby mukades.
    When we talk about the mukade bite: actually they bite the scorpion way, they have the poison in a double needle they have in the rear top end of their bodies, while they eat with their mouth. I have no idea why that mukade was biteing my finger.
    After that I made a ring with special killer for mukades in spry.
    In the whole time I stayed in Japan I was never bitten by a mukade myself (with the tail and poison I mean) but we had a few cases every year. Always was either that the mukade was inside the shoe and the person didnt check before, or the person put the hand in a place without checking properly.
    Thus I always think mukades are not really aggresive, they only attack when trapped and scared.
    I don´t know why that mukade in the supermarket ran towards you. I would rather think it was out of confusion and panick. Is that possible?

    regards,
    Manuk.

    • Hi Manuk,

      Thank you for that interesting story! Although I do believe you when you say that mukade aren’t really agressive, the thought of working in a place with that many mukade still gives me the chills :-) But in any case now I know to always check my shoes and to not put my hand inside possible mukade hiding places.

      I’d like to think the mukade in the supermarket was running towards me either a) to scare me off or b) to pose for the picture, but more likely it was just a coincidence.

      • When I go to Japan I will forever be wearing flats and shoes that I can see the inside of without touching now. Haha! And I thought bugs in Australia (where I live) could be scary! Thanks for the post =)

        • If you are used to Australian bugs, you should be fine in Japan :-) The pictures I have seen and the stories I have heard about Australian bugs give me the creeps!

    • I’m from Mcallen Texas n while looking for the remote I found next to where I lie myhead at ” dead “…I read its a symbol for evil now u tell me its for good luck…which is it n why was it dead…

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