The Ubud Handbook « Bali's Scorpions, Hornets, Mosquitoes, Poisonous Caterpillars... And Other Strange Balinese Tails
Nowhere is free from the tax of life. We all have to pay for our slice of Bali paradise – and this often comes in the shape of our biting, stinging, crawling, flying insect cousins.
It's the downside of environment-sharing.
The Bali hornet: a dark brown, flying, wasp-like insect that – if it stings you – will give your nervous system a run for its money.
Photograph by © 2021 Ubud High.
Things that Bite and Sting ~ Bali's Insect Kingdom vs. You
- Venomous furry caterpillars
- Bali's scorpions
- Tabuhan ~ The Bali hornet
Poisonous (venomous) furry caterpillars
Furry caterpillars aren't going to stop you in your tracks – but if you see one, don't give it a stroke it because it looks cute.
There are different species on Bali, and not all are potentially dangerous. But the furry hair on many of the varieties are loaded with toxins that produce an extremely painful, burning, blistering rash as they crawl over your skin. And the longer their journey on you, the longer the blister.
Give them a flick with a handy stick.
Had a brush with one? Apply an ice-pack, have a cold shower, spread some strong antihistamine cream on the site and take a strong paracetamol.
On Bali, scorpions like to live in dark, damp places that are seldom disturbed. After all, they just want to make a cute home and have babies like everybody else on the island.
If you wear shoes or trainers you will, like every good Balinese person, leave them outside your home before you enter. But when you come to put them back on the next morning, give them a good knock and a shake first.
Scorpions like sneakers, and they love toes.
If you're lucky enough to be gardening on Bali, put on a thick pair of gardening gloves before you set to on your weeding mission – particularly if you haven't disturbed the area for a while. Check behind or under plant-pots before you move them.
On Bali, scorpions tend to be small and black or dark brown.
Don't be put off by the size of scorpoins on Bali or the Gili Islands – they're not like your six-inch long Giant hairy scorpions back in Arizona, but the Balinese varieties will hit your skin and central nervous system hard.
Tabuhan – The Bali hornet
Tabuhan ('ta-boo-an') – a largish, lazy-flying, dark-chocolate-coloured hornet – make it their daily business to find and colonise areas of your house that you rarely clean, use or can reach. They look pretty passive – weighing in at about 3 or 4 cms, they have long, dangly legs when they fly, and make spherical, grey, clay-like homes where they hatch their young larvae.
Hornets are extremely common on Bali, inside and outside your home. They often live in sheltered wooden rafters of a ceiling – or behind a bookcase or bedside table that rarely gets moved or cleaned.
Tabuhan are intelligent.
They'll buzz you like a Fed chopper, and eyeball you, and if they don't think they can eat you or make a home on you, they'll leave you alone. You're not their main course.
The trouble comes if you roll onto one while you're asleep – or worse, if you freak and try to swat one. They'll hit you back like a jackhammer. If you disturb a large nest with a lot of adults, you will be stung repeatedly.
Rule number one? Don't make them angry. When you see one inside your home, don't flit about all over the place like you're at a Saturday morning Ecstatic Dance Session. Watch it until you see where its home is. Grab a can of insecticide, and when it comes near you, spray at it. And if it makes a dash for you, spray it again.
It'll either leave via an open window or a door, or finally fall to the floor. At that point, drop your least favourite book on it and step on it until you hear a crunch.
Step number two is to get rid of the nest. Scrape the nest from the ceiling/rafter/bedside table with a sharp knife, and spray the spot with your handy insecticide. It'll take a while before another hornet is brave enough to start the whole birthing experience again, usually in exactly the same spot. To prevent this, grab some teak oil (minyak jati) from a supermarket and paint the rafter or piece of bookcase with it.
Been stung? You don't have to panic after a tabuhan sting. It's not like a fatal snake-bite or a shark attack.
But stings are similar to a mild-to-moderate scorpion bite. The sting-site will become acutely painful, and swelling will spread – for example, if you're stung on the hand, it's common for your fingers and forearm to bloat a day or two afterwards if you don't treat it quickly.
See further down the page for what to do if you've been stung... ⤵
Ants... and more ants
Ants are great at what they do: search, march, eat, sniff, investigate, follow, reproduce and colonise. That's their job. And they're great at it. That's what you get from being part of a larger community.
Trying to fight an army of ants is like chasing a lone mosquito around your bedroom – a Balinese person, if they catch you at it, might take this as a sign of madness, and take a permanent step backwards.
The bottom line is that you'll never get rid of ants in the tropics. There are way more of them than you. And every time you shut off one line of attack, they'll open up on another front. Accept that they're going to win in the long run, breathe, and get over it.
They're stronger than us.
The Good Doctor said that prevention always beats the cure. And she, or he, was always right.
Do's and don'ts?
Don't leave any food out. They'll find it in a flash, and you'll be blaming God and your hotel manager before you know it. Keep your sugar in your fridge. Don't spill stuff and not clean up. Wash your plates and pans after a meal. Don't eat over your nice Mac laptop, because ants and motherboards don't mix. Clean your work-surfaces with an anti-bacterial, and mop your ceramic tiles or granite floors on a regular basis.
Ants, like mosquitoes, hate 'clean'.
Anaphylactic shock ~ Signs, symptoms and treatment
Signs & symptoms of anaphylactic shock
If you're hyper-allergic, you may in rare cases experience anaphylactic shock after a bite or sting – or a brush with a hairy caterpillar.
Symptoms of anaphylactic shock can include an all-over-rash, a swelling of the tongue or throat, trouble breathing, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, vomiting or a drop in blood pressure.
⚕ Action & treatment after an insect bite or sting
Whether or not you will suffer from anaphylactic shock, the first thing to do after a bite or sting is to put some distance between you and the insect. Spread some strong antihistamine cream on and around the bite or sting-site, take a strong antihistamine tablet.
If you begin to notice signs of anaphylactic shock, take a trip to a good clinic or nearby hospital. If you have a friend with you, ask them to drive.
The faster the curative measures that you take after any bite or sting – regardless of anaphylactic shock – the less symptoms you will have later.
[July 5th, 2021: Please note that this page is still being written: the scorpions, ants and Bali hornets need cleaning up; and you're just going to have to wait for the bed-bugs, mosquitoes, ticks, fleas and jumping spiders.]
Coming Soon: Bali's Snakes & Reptiles ~ With – or Against You?
Non-venomous, dead lizard in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.
Photograph by © 2020 Ubud High.
© 2021 John Storey. All Rights Reserved.
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Portraits from Bali by Ubud High
© 2021 John Storey / Ubud High. All rights reserved.
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Street art, graffiti and murals for the masses – the most public of Bali's urban art scene hidden in plain sight on the walls of Canggu, Ubud, Seminyak and Kuta.
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‘First stop on Shree Ganesha's round-Asia tour was a spell in Buddhist Tibet with its strong tantric leanings – a convenient spot to re-invent himself as Vinãyaka, and then as the dancing red Nritta Ganapati – before a full-blown alter-ego revamp as the scarlet, twelve-armed Maharakta Ganapati. Now, Maharakta Ganapati was unusually fond of skullcaps filled with human flesh and blood – and this we might charitably put down to a bad trip.
After all, what happens in Tibet stays in Tibet...’
‘To cut an all-night story short, the mask was donned by a dancer who fell into a deep trance. But instead of staying in the temple, he began to run. And run. He became violent and uncontrollable. He ran for four kilometers down the road – the crowd scrambled after him. He ended up in a cemetery just past my house, and in the dead of night began to do frenzied battle with unseen foes...’
∞ 'Nyepi' ~ Bali's Hindu New Year, and the Day of Silence ~ Melasti, Ngerupuk, Ogoh-Ogoh & Manis Nyepi
‘If previous New Years' Days have seen you waking up with a crippling hangover trying to remember what you did the night before, maybe it's time you headed to Bali in March. Nyepi – the Balinese Day of Silence, and the start of the Hindu Saka New Year – is a day, a night and a day you'll never forget....’
‘Kajeng Kliwon is the kind of day when anything that can happen will happen. It invariably does.
You have been seriously warned...’
“When I had my sixth and seventh babies at the hospital – my twin girls – the doctor ordered me to have a Caesarian. And without asking me, he tied my tubes off as well.
I think he thought I'd had enough babies...”
“On the third bite,” says one hater, “it was as though I'd just eaten a diseased, parasite-infested animal with a bad case of rabies. I prayed I wouldn't be sick because I really didn't want to taste it again on the way back up...”
‘Boobs and political censorship have never been far from the Silver Screen – in Indonesia, they're its bedrock. The silent flicks of Thirties' Bali sucked hungrily on the island's bare-breasted cabinet-postcard image that encouraged so many gilded tourists – and dodgy film-stars like Charlie Chaplin – to visit its sultry, forbidden shores...’
Getting Around ~ Bali 'Biking
“For me, some of the most dangerous people on the road are white people. I avoid them like the plague. You can tell the ones who are going to hurt others – the fixed grins, the hunched over the handle-bars, the wobbling around corners and shouts of indignation when they finally hit someone – because they have absolutely no idea how life and the road works around here...”
‘She tears into the traffic. She can't stop. She narrowly misses hitting a car head-on, swerves past a mum on a 'bike and slaloms across the road. Before she hits anyone – it's a miracle she doesn't – she falls in a bad-sounding heap of bent metal and smashing plastic. A group of Balinese rush to pick her up before the cops see her...’
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She's shy; I press...’
‘Rule number one on a monsoon day? Don't get wet.
You may not realise that getting caught in a cloudburst or shower on Bali – particularly if you're on a motorbike – is the tropical equivalent of walking naked outside during a Prague Winter after a lukewarm bath.
It'll really slow you down. The shivers, hot-and-cold flushes, a chesty cough, diarrhoea, sneezing, stomach pains, a belting headache and aching bones are all at the top of the list...’
‘Nowhere is free from the tax of life. We all have to pay for our slice of Bali paradise – and this often comes in the shape of our biting, stinging, crawling, flying insect-cousins.
It's the downside of environment-sharing...’
Holidays from the Jungle
‘Agricultural, and unpractised in the dark art of handling international tourists, the aristocratic farmer-people of Trunyan have acquired a damaging reputation for aggression. Their unique tourist draw – a jungle-cemetery where bodies are left in the open to disintegrate underneath a magical banyan tree – is regularly shunned by travellers on the time-sensitive tourist circuit...’
‘Ten meters away and the young man finally looks up – an inane, animal-like grin taped across his face as his girlfriend grips his porcelain butt and grimaces towards the empty blue sky. They disengage like street dogs, utter an invective in Russian, and stare...’
Tourism & Self-Enrichment
‘My concentration's shot to pieces. The spaghetti keeps falling off my fork. She's on her third large beer now. She starts to say 'facking' even more, and is speaking so loudly that people passing on the street have begun to look her way, and she's spitting bits of ciabatta bread and tomato and fish into her friend's dinner...’
‘I'm staying at a cute, family-run bed-and-breakfast – a homestay – on Ubud's trendy Jalan Goutama. A young member of the homestay's family tours her compound, blessing it with incense and rice and flower-petal offerings in little hand-made palm-leaf boxes.
All is well in Bali's spiritual capital...’
‘A Dutch boy in Holland goes to a gypsy fortune-teller who tells him that he is, in fact, Balinese. Afterwards, his uncle visits the Island of the Gods and brings him back a wooden carving of a bare-breasted lady.
Lucky for him it wasn't one of those funny-shaped wooden bottle-openers that looks like a cock...’
‘Shake out those Kundalini Awakenings with some HoopYogini™ and Bhakti Boogie® at the Yoga Barn. Celebrate The Divine Feminine with a splash of Shakti Dance. Puff up your lungs in a Sacred Breathwork Immersion Workshop®, insert a Jade Egg for luck at The Womb Temple™ and polish it off with some tantalising Manifesting And Abundance.
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Gunung Anak Krakatau – the infamous 'Child of Krakatoa' volcano – erupting in the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra, Indonesia.