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Something nasty this way comes

PUBLISHED: August 10, 2010 at 10:15 am  •  LAST EDITED: June 11, 2012 at 7:47 pm
Nature  •  36 Comments


Something nasty this way comes

• PREHISTORIC: The Megarian Banded Centipede


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Jason Heppenstall delves deep under the bedclothes and finds something nasty

LEON FEASEY, by his own admission, does not scare easily.

But one evening, tired after a hard day on a building site, something happened to him he will never forget. Retiring to the bedroom of his rustic house on the outskirts of Orgiva, he stripped naked and climbed into bed. Some time later his wife Rebecca decided to join him. But on entering the bedroom and pulling back the bedclothes she was in for a terrible shock. Leon awoke, startled, to find his wife screaming hysterically and pointing at something “long and evil-looking” nestling within the folds of the duvet.

“It was massive,” she told the Olive Press. “It was almost a foot long and writhing around in the bed as my husband slept.”

The weary builder leapt to his feet and had only seconds to size up the situation. Grabbing a jar he attempted to trap what looked like a giant squirming worm. “It wasn’t easy, it could move very fast and I couldn’t fit all of it in.”

Eventually, with it trapped inside the jar he ran into the living room and, opening the door of the log burning stove, threw it onto the red hot cinders inside before slamming the door shut. But the creature was not beaten yet. Seemingly unaffected by the intense heat it scuttled angrily around the inside the furnace before emerging through an air vent and resuming the attack.

In the ensuing mêlée, Leon managed to trap the creature again. This time he was taking no chances and bound the jar up in bundles of paper and tape before tossing it once again into the flames. Thus trapped the creature did not survive.

What Leon and Rebecca had encountered was a Megarian Banded Centipede, known in Spain as the scolopendra (or escolopendra). Said by some to be the worst creature you are ever likely to come upon in southern Europe, the scolopendra is a type of centipede and resembles something from the special effects department of a Hollywood movie. It is yellow with black stripes with pincers at the head end loaded with venom that deliver a very nasty bite. Modified claws curve around the head. The body itself is composed of around 20 segments, each with its own set of legs.

Unfortunately for you and I, this is a creature that we are quite likely to run into sooner or later. Almost anyone who has lived in Andalucía for any length of time has an anecdote relating to an encounter with a scolopendra. You see, scolopendras want the same as us – somewhere warm and dry to live and a nice place to curl up. And it is around this time of year domestic encounters reach their peak.

Indeed, only last week as the Olive Press was putting the finishing touches to the latest edition of the paper, something prehistoric stirred in the corner of the office. After a few minutes of watching it with a mixture of horror and curiosity, we decided that the best place for the creature was back outside where presumably he had come from.

Stories of encounters abound. Damian, living in La Alpujarra, found one in his sock when he put it on one morning while Andy, an electrician, noticed one crawling up his trouser leg as he sat at a table rolling a cigarette.

Fortunately for Leon, Andy and Damian quick reactions meant they avoided being bitten. English naturalist Charles Owen wrote in 1740 about the effects of a scolopendra bite:

Its Weapons of Mischief are much the same as those of the Spider, only much larger; its Bite is very tormenting, and produces not only pruriginous Pain in the Fleshe, but very often Distractions of the Minde

Fast forward 267 years and Philip – a guitar player in a local punk band – can fully relate to this. He takes up the story: “We’d been playing a gig in the riverbed one night and were all sleeping in tents. I woke up in the night to find a scolopendra in my sleeping bag, which subsequently bit me on the cheek as I tried to escape. It was agony. My whole head swelled up and I was feverish for two days.”

 

An insect eating a mammal

So just what is it about the scolopendra that makes it so universally loathed? Just about everything, it seems. From its dangerous looking stripes and the fluid way it moves to those nasty mandibles and its predilection for attacking first. A zoological text describes the creature as “aggressive” – and it is not meant as an insult. The scolopendra adopts a policy of bite first ask questions later when it comes to encounters with other species. And, make no mistake; this centipede does not mess around when it comes to encounters with other creatures.

Undertaking research on the internet, I came a across a grisly video – the ultimate stuff of nightmares. Someone, somewhere has engineered a film of a scolopendra (possibly his pet) attacking and then eating a cute-looking white mouse (possibly his ex-girlfriend’s pet). Yes – an insect eating an entire mammal in one go. For those of you ghoulish enough to want to see this rodent snuff movie have a look at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8CL2hetqpfg and don’t say I didn’t warn you…

But not everyone dislikes the scolopendra. In fact, taking a quick walk through cyberspace, it becomes apparent there are legions of adorers of this venomous arthropod. Many people do indeed choose to have them as pets in their own homes and give them goofy names like Tinkerbell and lovingly feed them live lizards. Some foolish souls even post photos of themselves with their cherished pets coiled up on their shoulders or hanging by the mandibles from their fingertips. And should you ever find a nice large specimen coiled up in your own bed/boot/underpants then rest assured that, after you have recovered from the venomous bite, you can trap the scaly fiend, pack it in a breathable jiffy bag and sell it on the internet for up to 40 euros. Most buyers seem to live in Germany, for some reason.

And if you do ever have the misfortune to get bitten by one you can give thanks for these two things: a) the bite may hurt a lot and you may well need an antihistamine but it is not considered dangerous b)…unless you have been bitten by the Peruvian Giant Yellow Centipede (the European scolopendra’s big cousin) that grows as long as your arm and can jump high enough to catch birds – in which case you had better call the doctor.

If you have had any scary scolopendra anecdotes or pictures please share them with [email protected]

Factfile

  • Name: scolopendra cingulata
  • Habitat: Rocky, arid environment around Mediterranean
  • Eats: Insects, lizards, other arthropods
  • Active: Mostly nocturnal
  • Captivity: Clear plastic container with air holes and peat floor. Interior decor not required.
  • To demobilise: Place in fridge for one hour
  • If bitten: Apply an icepack and wait for swelling to subside. If headaches and dizziness follow (extremely rare) seek emergency assistance
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Reader Comments »



Sue

July 8th, 2007 4:15 pm

Hi,

The centipede in the video is not a Spanish Megarian banded centipede. It is more like a captive giant centipede probably from South America. I think it is a bit unfair to portray the Spanish centipede in this way. It is not generally seen and is mostly harmless as creatures go. To portray it an evil attacking thing is wrong. They generally go about their business unseen and unknown about and are an important part of an ecosystem… The fact that people are building houses in the territories of these animals is the fault of the people not the animals…

Spanish Megarian Banded Centipedes do not grow to 30 CM (“a foot long”)in length… A full grown adult (A very rare sight)would be around 20 CM.

There is more chance of you being stung by a bee than being bitten by a centipede and the reaction could be a lot worse from a bee sting.

A little perspective is needed if you are going to write about the animals that live in Spain…

Sue

Ryan

March 19th, 2008 9:09 pm

I used to live in Spain, and one day where i was doing the usual knocking down ruin buildings and building them back up, anyway came back from work took my clothes off dumped them over the chair, jumped on the bed and went to sleep.

Woke up to my surprise to find something tickling my privates, whacked down my boxers to find this 8inch scolopendra, i belted it off and i was in shock i ran around the house before going back and catching it in a jar…

Anyway gone back to Spain to visit my mum where all along she said my dog Zeus (Dobermann) was fine etc et, i surprise her one day turning up and then she then tells me he is dead 6ft under, died by a centipede…..

I’m in Spain now and only found out yesterday, so i thought i would research this evil thing a little more when i come across this website where i thought I’d share my experience.

Richard Berelson

October 20th, 2008 6:58 pm

Thanks for an interesting article, Jason. I looked this critter up online because we live close to Cartagena, Murcia, and, in contradiction to Sue’s assertions above that we hardly ever see these centipedes, I have had close encounters with at least half a dozen in as many months, mostly indoors in the old farmhouse where we live.

I’m sure, Sue, that they are a part of the ecosystem, but like it or not, so are we humans, and I for one don’t relish being stung by a bee (the pain of which you compare to this centipede’s) and no more do I want to risk being bitten by one of these creatures. The ones I have encountered have ended up flushed down the toilet or walloped with a rock. Sorry, ecosystem.

brian hooper

May 8th, 2009 3:28 pm

One of these ran up my trouser leg yesterday, it tried to nip me but I screamed and jumped about so much it went flying across the kitchen, got caught in my shoe so chucked it into the neighbours garden!

allyson

May 22nd, 2009 10:07 am

Having lived in rural Spain for fourteen years I had until now only heard stories of these creatures.I am now astonished to state that my house suddenly seems infested with these creatures ! (as in we have found six in less than a week!)
The largest measured 5 inches long and had bitten a guest in her bed !
We are now checking the beds every night.
Does anyone know how to prevent these creatures from entering the house ? I dont particularly want to kill them , we cope quite well with snakes by catching them and releasing them in the fields but as for the centipedes !!!

claire

July 15th, 2009 2:03 am

I also live in spain(on outskirts of Torrevieja, Alicante) so not at all rural, and have seen 4 of these things in my swimming pool, thankfully always at the bottom!, but have never known what they were….
that was until today, when we found one hiding in my youngests tweenies sleeping bag that she likes to lay in (although god knows why in this heat!)
i dont think it stung her, thankfully, as she doesnt have any swelling or anything, but for some strange reason she is still awake now, its nearly 2am, and she has developed a high temperature and snotty nose…coincidence or not??
but anyway, its not something iwant a close encounter with again!

joanne

July 16th, 2009 2:54 pm

Hi I wonder if you can give me advice please. About 3 months ago I was bitten whilst asleep on my chest. I had a massive red lump appear at the site and suffered a burning and itching sensation. When I cleared underneath my bed I noticed one of these centipedes. About 4 days ago again whilst sleeping i noticed a raised red area on my neck again very itchy and burning the pain radiated around the left side of my neck then to the right. I felt dizzy, and had no energy at all my muscles felt really weak too. Could you please let me know if you think that this could be another bite from one of these centipedes as the mark has disappeard although there is a slight very slight discolouration around the area i was bitten. infact i can only notice it. I didnt go to the doctors at first but my friend was very worried about me and took me today because I still felt a little light headed and nauseous I took an article with me to show them what i thought had bitten me. They told me there was nothing wrong. They took my vital signs bp 102/73 sats 97% but didnt take my pulse which was 101. I am currently living in Corfu Greece and i do have medical background although not with poisionous animals as i am a registered nurse. Any information you could give me would be grateley appreciated. Thanks

melanie savage

August 13th, 2009 12:19 am

Just returned from a great visit to family villa in Andalucian mountains behind Torrox. Have seen a couple of these creatures around there before. Middle of one night the pump under the house broke – shooting water everywhere. Whilst holding the torch for my husband, I felt something bite my bare foot – not too bad, but a definite pinch and, in the torch beam, saw a giant centipede (4-5ish inches) run across my foot and scuttle off. When I was able to examine my foot in good light it looked like the skin was not broken but I had a mini sticky black “oilslick” across my foot which was very difficult to get off. I was told several days later by a Spanish resident that a bite can be very dangerous so I don’t think I got a proper one but would love to know if the black stuff was venom that missed!! There was no “oil” anywhere else – just water!!

Peter Toft

September 23rd, 2009 12:06 am

Hi All,
My girlfreind just had a scary encounter with one of these creatures from hell.
I live in southern Andalucia.
You wouldn’t belive it, but we had just finished a movie (horror of all things) and were stilling in the sofa when a I felt something crawling up my arm. I looked down and then jumped about a metre into the air as I brushed off a huge centipede from my arm.
My girlfriend thought I was amking a joke until she saw this long beast running over the floor in full sprint for the bathroom.
Lights turned, on, much ranting and raving for the insect spray and “keep your bloody eye on that thing!”.
It seemed to disappear inside the door jam and I started to think, “oh crap, this things gonna share the house with me now tonight”. Lucky for us, but unfortunatly not so lucky for it, it can back out of the door jam and received ½ a can of insect spray. Even then it still kicked around for 10 to 15 minutes before croaking…
This is a bloody horrible creature – and screw the eco system inside my house – where can I find a bug guy to gas my house?
Now to completely check the bedroom before a night of uneasy dreams…

Pete

allyson

May 2nd, 2010 2:22 pm

Dont be fooled by kind remarks about these creatures!
They attack easily, their bite hurts like blazes and can cause severe swelling of the surrounding area. I live in the Cartagena Campa and believe me, come this time of the year, these “friends” pop up in bedding, cupboards, in fact anywhere we are!
The largest we have encountered was in fact 22cms long!!Others have been only slightly shorter. Needless to say I do not selll them on the Internet…………..

Julie Gladman

June 25th, 2010 1:15 am

I live in Almeria, Mojacar Playa to be exact, so not at all rural. I have just had a close encounter with one of these beasties, about 17cm long, it quite happily strolled past my foot as I was sitting at the computer and went on it’s merry way towards the downstairs bathroom. (While I stood on the chair!!) I shouted for my partner to come down and see what I’d found! We had just about every receptical out of the kitchen cupboards looking for something to catch the bloody thing in. Eventually got it (after a few photos that is) and I let it go up in the campo. I’ve lived here for over three years now and until just this last few weeks had never even seen one, but just lately I’ve caught my cats playing with something in the street a few times and found it to be one of these Scolopendras, which I take it could be fatal for a small animal. Yuuuukkkkk all creeped out now. Will have to check the whole house before going to bed.

Hobbers

July 10th, 2010 7:44 pm

Still recovering from 3 bites I got last night actually. And this one was the smallest I’ve seen, at around 4 inches. Due to the intense heat, last night was the first time I’d managed to get to sleep but probably only due to exhaustion. Woke at 4am to find I have 3 painful bites (and blood from the point of impacts) but didn’t find the bu**er til the morning when it was cowering under my bed.

The ecosystem is also missing one more I am afraid to say, when a stamping sensation in my left foot left it’s brains resembling a Jackson Pollock all over my tiled floor!

Jane Thompson

July 14th, 2010 2:50 pm

I have lived in rural Lorca, Murcia for seven years and these creatures are a regular occurance in our house. We NEVER get into bed without turning the pillows and shaking out the duvet. We have five dogs and I’m worried sick that one of them will discover a Scolopendras before I do. We use practically a whole can of insecticide on each one then chuck it into the undergrowth outside. We have never been bitten (Luckily) and I´m not sure of the effect their venom has on dogs. Does anyone know? Also, do they nest and lay eggs? if so, I will strip my house from top to bottom to try to eradicate these things. It´s almost a daily occurance at this time of year although we have also had them in the house at Christmastime. THEY ARE HUGE!

cherrie edwards

August 3rd, 2010 4:31 pm

i live just outside cartagena in the campo and we have regular visits from these critters in the house. all the official websites say they are up to 10 cm and not aggresive well all i can say is that most we see are a good 20cm long (measured ) and i can vouch for the pain of the bite as i had one bite my arm while watching t.v last week. i am quite paranoid about them now and do all the usual shaking out of boots and bed inspections.thankfully the one that bit me was a baby only 10cm had it been mum or dad i´d probably still be in the hospital !!

Vin Pearson

November 23rd, 2010 3:32 pm

I lived in Mojacar Almeria for a year in 1984. I rented a new build villa not far from the playa and was awoken one evening by my dog barking.
I went into the living room and switched the light on. Only a few inches away from the lightswitch was one of these nasty centipedes. It was approx 4 to 5 inches long and what worried me most was the scorpion like tail.
I decided to catch the creature in an empty coffee jar so as I could show it to my housemates in the morning.
The following morning we found a second one underneath the folding doors. It was smaller than the first.
I decided to put this one in the jar also and intended to release them both later in the day. When I put the second one into the jar it immediately clung to the first one and bit it’s head off! It then sucked the insides out of it and grew a good inch or so in the process.
They are scary creatures indeed. Best avoided.

Fred

November 23rd, 2010 9:05 pm

“It then sucked the insides out of it and grew a good inch or so in the process.”

Do you watch a lot of sci-fi, Vin?

Beverly Durmaz

November 23rd, 2010 10:31 pm

l live in Paphos in Cyprus, about a month ago l had a Megarian Banded Centipede slither into my settee, which is the only word l can use to describe the way it moved, it was so fast. lt was about 4 to 5 ins long. l still havent found it, even though l have now put a glue trap under the settee. l havent had a decent nights sleep since.To make matters worse l had one in the bathroom last night. much smaller than the first. Please God, tell me they are not breeding.

cinico

November 24th, 2010 11:59 pm

I really think that some of the poeple posting here need to get a life or at least a house rather than the sheds they appear to live in. I have lived in the campo for 8 years. I found one of these creatures the day we moved in after the house was finished .I find the odd one in the garden or under pots on the terrace, but have yet to find another inside the house.
The times i visit freinds in the campo and see a gap under doors that a limbo dancer could get under. You need to secure your property from pests ,get a cat or two living outside , and live with nature.

Fred

November 25th, 2010 10:35 am

Insects have complete control of the planet; they could take over tomorrow if they wished. All of these creatures have been in houses in the campo at one time or another, and just because you don’t see them doesn’t mean they are not present – you just need to be a bit vigilant. Humans are far more dangerous lol.

Amy

February 16th, 2011 8:14 pm

Does anyone know the ‘folklore’ or legends of these bugs from the locals?

chris malcomson

May 12th, 2011 7:59 am

I hate bugs so my wife was cleaning out the back of our house in berja. Suddenly she screamed! I ran out to find one of these fearsome Megarian Banded Centipedes facing me. It reared up as i approached and i’d swear it winked at me. Must have been about 6-8 inches long. Fortunately I was able to flick it out the back door with the brush. We’ve got a courtyard in the centre of the house full of weeds and junk which we were going to clear, think i’ll pay some locals to do it instead!!!

Fred

May 12th, 2011 1:41 pm

“It reared up as i approached”

What, all 2 inches of it?

Barrie

July 9th, 2011 11:37 am

We live in the campo inland on the Costa del Sol. I woke up at three in the morning, jumped out of bed, swearing that something had stung me in the back of my knee, my wife (who nearly had a heart attack) reckoned I had been dreaming as there was no marks and I was in no pain, eventually went back to sleep.
Got up later on and put on a T-shirt and felt a sharp pain in my arm (like a wasp sting), threw the shirt off and found a escolopendra about five inches long run (of course they run fast, they’ve a hundred legs). Captured it, cut it in half and it still ran around (though not as fast). It left two puncture wounds on my arm and immediately started to swell with intense pain that lasted for a good hour, I took an anti-histamine, and anti-inflamatory cream and Aloe Vera. I will be shaking my clothes and bedding in future.

John & Jenny

November 7th, 2011 3:13 pm

Spotted this bugger wriggling across the floor. The dog also spotted it and he stamped on it! It has stopped wriggling now but not sure where it was heading…..Reading the reports from others this must have been an infant Megarian Centipede…so where are it’s Mum and Dad….Oh No!
http://algorfa.co.uk/Images/centipede.jpg

Bob's Hope

November 7th, 2011 4:39 pm

Hi John, is Jenny your dog ?

Amy May

March 22nd, 2012 4:40 pm

When I was about 10 I was in holiday in spain. I’ve always loved bugs of all kinds and when I saw one of these centipedes I was so excited that I picked it up and let it run all over me. It didn’t hurt me at all, although the locals were shouting so much that I had to put it down. I still don’t know what they were saying but I assume it was something like ‘WTF are you doing?!’. Haha.

Linda Blanco

June 8th, 2012 8:58 pm

Early June 2012 Evening:
I was staying with my son and family in Southern Spain, Rural Baza area when I went into their bathroom to brush my teeth and to my horror was bitten by one of these creatures about 5 inches long on the back of my heel. I felt the bite and looked down to see it running off out of the door. I was horrified and screamed the loudest scream! My 10 year old grandson ran straight outside shouting that nanny had been bitten by a centipede! I didn’t know whether I needed to rush to hospital immediately or what was going to happen next and expected the worst! but to my surprise and delight I had no reaction… well the only reason I could think of why I had no pain or swelling was that I had my socks on and may be the poison had gone into the sock instead of my foot! I just thank God that I had my socks still on!! Anyway after that I checked my bedding every night and shook all my clothes and socks before putting them on. 2 days later my daughter in law found a centipede downstairs and dutifully killed it. We hoped it was infact the one that had bitten me in the bathroom earlier.

Louise

June 11th, 2012 1:19 am

Just returned from a stay in the most beautiful villa in southern Spain. One night my partner woke after being bitten by something and seconds later I received a much lesser bite and felt something scuttle across me, it was an adult one of these critters. The first bite was painful and swelled up a bit but reduced after an hour or so. Couldn’t sleep after that and we couldn’t find it so we watched the most stunning sunrise instead :)

Anonimo

June 25th, 2012 1:09 pm

Hi, this article is ridiculous. I’m spanish, i lived all my life in Andalucia, and never saw a scolopendra, never! so don’t say everybody in Andalucia has a story to tell about scolopendras. I have, but cause now i’m living in Thailand and everyweek i see scolopendras, yesterday for example, a scolopendra of 20 cm in my bath. But i dont kill her, i only take out from my home without kill her. And you not only kill the scolopendra… you burnt her alive, is sadic!

Another mistake, scolopendras dont like dry places, they need water to survive cause their body dry very fast.

You found a small centipede and make a big movie about, only to sell your article.

At least i know you are a liar, and a sadic.

Fred

June 25th, 2012 8:29 pm

“I’m spanish, i lived all my life in Andalucia, and never saw a scolopendra, never”

You couldn’t have got out much then.

Debbie

September 2nd, 2012 10:26 pm

I lived for 16 years in mojacar Almeria and have had many close shaves and one nasty bite-the bite occured in bed as so often happens, before I had even heard of these creatures, I leapt out of bed in agony and saw the two tiny holes left by the bite and felt the pain shooting down my leg and actually thought I had been bitten by a snake until we found the thing on the floor. Have had many in the house since, my most recent experience ,which is what made me go on the website, was finding one in my coolbag chomping its way through a plastic bag of roast chicken.Aaaargh!I would love any tips on how to instantly dispatch a “ciempies” as you cant clobber them they just boing all over the place.
I have found that spraying all around the doors and windows every few months with strong cockroach spray such as Maton, can lead to the odd dead one in the house-so presumably works.
And sorry about the ecosystem but when these things get into bed with you Im afraid its the Maton for me.

irena

October 5th, 2012 3:05 pm

Well…..was bitten a week ago – in my bed and the critter scurried away. Today, I found it / or his friend in a large vase that stands at the bottom of the stairs…leading from the front door. Alive! Did he jump, or did he fall! I caught him in a plastic bag and photographed him…he measured about 150cm (roughly 6in). So my sympathies to all who have had a rude awakening. Scary, scary…and I am finding it hard to sleep now. I live near Benahavis, in the campo, so am not surprised but very scared! My foot was sore, but no adverse effects, except as Charles Owen wrote in 1740, my “minde is very distracted!”

Carisha

November 3rd, 2012 9:50 pm

I am in Australia and we have red ones similar. I had never seen one before and at 3 am this morning my sister comes running into my room crying about a centipede, she thought it was a mouse by the sound. I come out and find this huge bitch running up the curtains. Killed it with spray. Then, after many prayers, I finally fell asleep. About 2 hours later I am woken by some scuttling in my room. I freak realizing it has to be another, jump out of bed run towards the door and the light and about 10 minutes later and even bigger one, about 6″ crawls out from under my dresser. Not sure if it is the one that woke me up but I have a feeling it isn’t and that there must be others and now I am here researching them and can’t sleep. Don’t think I can ever sleep in this house again!

Suzyguti

July 27th, 2013 7:25 pm

We live in the campo too, Almeria, southern Spain. We have had far too many encounters with this ugly creature. They love dark, humid places. Near bins, damp towels, piles of washing, washing baskets, mop heads,, etc.

We have found them in beds, in our pool and in the garage. They are very hard to kill. I’ve tried beating them with a shoe, a flip flip, a spade and even a baseball bat. It takes several attempts, but eventually you can kill them.

We found poison that kills earwigs and wood lice works well. It comes in pellet form.

We were looking after the classroom pet for a week. It was a Guinea pig. Needless to say, it got bitten buy one of these foul insects and it was never to return to the classroom. Died within hours. A slow, cruel death.

I hate them. They frighten the life out of me.

Fred

July 28th, 2013 12:46 pm

The thread that keeps on giving lol.

Peter Jack

October 14th, 2013 8:44 pm

Sue’s comment (one of the first) said it all. All these centipedes want is to be left alone!

I’m fascinated by insects and other inverts and like to search for these centipedes by looking under rocks. The second I disturb one it dives for cover — usually down a hole. This European centipede averages 10 cm., 14 maximum. Its bite is no worse than a bee sting.

Why can’t people at least respect creatures’ right to live — even if they dislike them?

Pete




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