Centipede Adaptations: Exploring their Survival Secrets

Centipedes are fascinating creatures known for their numerous legs and unique adaptations. These arthropods have evolved over time to become efficient predators in their respective environments.

One significant adaptation is their flattened, wormlike body, which varies in length from 1 to 12 or more inches depending on the species source. This flattened shape allows them to navigate and hide within tight spaces, such as leaf litter or soil crevices.

Another notable feature of centipedes is their venomous jaws, which are located on their first body segment, just behind the head source. These poison glands enable them to swiftly immobilize their prey, primarily consisting of insects and other small arthropods.

Centipede Characteristics

Chilopoda

Centipedes belong to the class Chilopoda, which is a group of arthropods characterized by their elongated, flattened bodies and numerous legs. They have a distinct head with long antennae and venomous jaws. Some examples of centipedes include:

  • House centipede
  • Soil centipede
  • Stone centipede

Centipedes vary in size, from 1 to 12 inches, depending on the species. A key characteristic of centipedes is their legs. Each body segment contains one pair of legs, and their total leg count can range from 30 to 354 legs.

Myriapoda

Myriapoda is a subphylum of arthropods that includes centipedes, millipedes, and other similar invertebrates. They all have segmented bodies, and are primarily terrestrial creatures. Key features of Myriapoda include:

  • Elongated, cylindrical or flattened bodies
  • Numerous body segments
  • Distinct head bearing antennae
  • One or two pairs of legs per body segment
  • Mainly terrestrial

Comparing centipedes (Chilopoda) and millipedes from Myriapoda:

Feature Centipedes Millipedes
Legs One pair per segment Two pairs per segment
Speed Fast runners Slow crawlers
Diet Predators Detritivores

Arthropoda

Centipedes are part of the phylum Arthropoda, which includes insects, crustaceans, spiders, and other similar invertebrates. Arthropods share the following characteristics:

  • Exoskeleton made of chitin
  • Segmented bodies
  • Jointed limbs
  • Bilateral symmetry
  • Specialized sensory organs

As arthropods, centipedes display several adaptations, such as their jointed limbs, enabling swift movement and efficient hunting of prey. Their flattened bodies also allow them to easily navigate through soil, leaf litter, and under objects, making them successful predators in various habitats.

Physical Adaptations

Legs

Centipedes possess a unique set of legs that allow them to navigate their environment efficiently. Some key features of their legs include:

  • One pair of legs per body segment
  • Varying in length and number depending on the species
  • Common species have 10-100+ legs

These legs enable centipedes to move quickly and climb various surfaces, assisting in their hunting and survival strategies.

Forcipules

Forcipules (venomous pincers) are another important adaptation in centipedes. These structures:

  • Deliver venom during a bite
  • Help in subduing and capturing prey
  • Some species cause pain and side effects in humans, as mentioned here

Though potentially painful, centipede bites are not typically life-threatening to humans.

Antennae

A centipede’s antennae are crucial sensory organs that aid in navigation and hunting. Their antennae:

  • Detect chemical signals and vibrations
  • Enable centipedes to locate prey
  • Aid in avoiding potential predators by sensing danger

This efficient set of adaptations ensures centipedes can effectively respond to their surroundings in any situation.

Venom and Defense Mechanisms

Venomous Bite

Centipedes are known for their venomous bites, effectively used for capturing prey and providing protection against predators. Their fangs, called forcipules, are modified legs containing venomous glands. Some venom components include:

  • Peptide toxins
  • Serotonin
  • Histamines

These components work together to immobilize or deter threats, showcasing a remarkable adaptation in centipedes.

Serotonin

Serotonin plays a crucial role in centipede venom, impacting the prey’s central nervous system by affecting nerve cells. Examples of such effects include pain, paralysis, and muscle contractions, giving the centipede a chance to subdue its prey or escape danger.

Histamines

Histamines in centipede venom contribute to the inflammatory response, causing swelling and redness at the site of the bite. This sensation can deter potential predators, as the localized reaction is often uncomfortable and painful.

Table: Comparison of Centipede Venom Components

Component Function Example
Peptide toxins Target voltage-gated ion channels Interference with central nervous system
Serotonin Affect nerve cells Pain, paralysis, muscle contractions
Histamines Induce inflammatory response Swelling, redness, discomfort

Habitat and Distribution

Range

Centipedes can be found in various regions across the world, particularly in the tropics. They are known to inhabit diverse environments such as:

  • Forests
  • Deserts
  • Grasslands

Habitat Types

Centipedes prefer living in moist and dark places. Their habitats can include:

  • Caves
  • Underground burrows
  • Beneath rocks and logs
  • Leaf litter

Some species of centipedes, such as the house centipede, can even be found indoors, typically in damp areas like basements and bathrooms.

Ecology

Centipedes are predators that play an essential role in their ecosystems. They feed on smaller crawling organisms like insects and other invertebrates. The hunting behavior of centipedes enables them to control the population of some pests. Their presence is an indication of a healthy ecosystem.

Here’s a comparison table to summarize the habitats of centipedes:

Habitat Type Example Centipede Presence
Forests Rainforests Yes
Deserts Arid deserts Yes
Grasslands Savannas Yes
Caves Limestone caves Yes
Underground Soil, burrows Yes
Indoors Basements, bathrooms Some species

In conclusion, centipedes exhibit a wide habitat and distribution range, mostly inhabiting moist and dark environments. Their ecological roles as predators help to maintain a balanced ecosystem.

Feeding and Hunting Strategies

Carnivorous Diet

Centipedes are primarily carnivorous and consume various types of insects and small animals. Some examples of prey include:

  • Spiders
  • Crickets
  • Cockroaches
  • Silverfish

Prey Selection

Centipedes typically choose their prey based on size and availability. Smaller centipedes will target tiny insects, while larger species may hunt bigger prey, like:

  • Small lizards
  • Slugs
  • Snails

Feeding Techniques

To capture and consume their prey, centipedes use the following methods:

  1. Ambush: Lying in wait and quickly attacking when prey comes within reach.
  2. Venom: Delivering a venomous bite through their modified front legs (forcipules) to immobilize prey.

Comparison table:

Feeding Technique Pros Cons
Ambush Energy-efficient Relies on prey proximity
Venom Highly effective Risk of retaliation

In summary, centipedes’ feeding and hunting strategies mainly involve a carnivorous diet, prey selection based on size, and employing ambush and venomous bites as tactics for capturing their preferred food.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Eggs

Centipedes lay eggs in soil or other protected areas. The number of eggs laid can vary depending on the species. Some female centipedes also exhibit parental care, guarding their laid eggs until they hatch.

Young Centipedes

When the eggs hatch, young centipedes emerge with a small number of legs. As they grow, they go through multiple molting stages, during which they shed their exoskeletons to increase in size.

  • Most centipedes molt several times before reaching maturity.

Development

The development of centipedes is characterized by a simple metamorphosis, with no distinct larval or pupal stages. They gradually gain body segments and legs as they mature, taking two to three years to reach adulthood.

  • Maturity: 2-3 years
  • Number of legs: can vary, odd number of pairs
  • Body segments: increase in number through growth stages
Growth Stage Body Segments Length
Young Fewer Shorter
Adult More Longer, up to 7¾ inches depending on species

Some centipedes measure up to 7¾ inches in length, depending on the species. They have an odd number of pairs of legs, with only one pair of legs per leg-bearing body segment. Centipedes require about 2-3 years to mature, and have been known to live 6 years.

Pro Tip: Provide a suitable and safe environment for centipedes to reproduce and develop. This will help maintain biodiversity within your garden, as centipedes are natural predators of many pests.

Remember not to disturb centipede eggs or young when gardening, as they play a significant role in controlling pest populations.

Predators and Threats

Birds

Centipedes, being small and crawling arthropods, often fall prey to various bird species. Birds such as sparrows, blackbirds, and robins are known to feed on centipedes. These feathered hunters primarily rely on their keen eyesight and sharp beaks to swiftly catch and consume their prey. A few examples of birds preying on centipedes include:

  • Sparrows: Common garden species feeding on small insects and centipedes.
  • Blackbirds: Known to hunt for insects and centipedes in leaf litter or soil.
  • Robins: These small, fearless birds feed on a wide range of invertebrates, including centipedes.

Other Predators

While birds are major predators of centipedes, they also face threats from other animals in their ecosystem. Some of the most common predators include amphibians, reptiles, and even other arthropods.

  • Amphibians: Frogs, toads, and newts are known to eat centipedes, using their long, sticky tongues to catch and devour them.
  • Reptiles: Lizards, such as geckos and skinks, are agile hunters often preying on centipedes.
  • Arthropods: Spiders, some predatory insects, and even larger centipedes can attack and eat smaller centipedes.

Comparison between Birds and Other Predators

Predators Advantages Disadvantages
Birds – Strong eyesight
– Fast and agile
– Sharp beaks
Limited by their size and availability
Other Arthropods – Can hunt in tight spaces
– Various hunting tactics
Competition for prey
Amphibians & Reptiles – Quick reflexes
– Camouflage for ambushing prey
Restricted by their habitat and range

In conclusion, centipedes as ancient and resilient creatures have adapted to live and thrive in various environments. They are, however, still prone to predation from a diverse range of species, including birds and other arthropods, which have all developed various techniques to exploit this food source.

Notable Centipede Species

Giant Centipede

The Amazonian Giant Centipede (Scolopendra gigantea) is an impressive species that can grow up to 12 inches in length. They are known for their speed and agility, allowing them to hunt various prey such as insects, lizards, and small mammals. Some key features of the giant centipede include:

  • Large size: up to 12 inches long
  • Venomous bite: capable of causing pain and swelling in humans
  • Carnivorous diet: preys on insects, lizards, and small rodents

Desert Centipede

The desert centipede is represented by two notable species: the Common Desert Centipede and the Giant Desert Centipede. Both species are adapted to arid environments and can vary in size, color, and behavior. Some characteristics of desert centipedes are:

  • Long and flat body: help them move quickly on sandy or rocky terrains
  • Adapted to arid environments: able to conserve water and tolerate high temperatures

Comparison between Giant Centipede and Desert Centipede:

Feature Giant Centipede Desert Centipede
Size Up to 12 inches Varies depending on species
Habitat Amazon rainforest Arid environments
Diet Carnivorous Carnivorous
Adaptations Large size, venomous bite Flat body, adaptation to arid environments

Evolution and Taxonomy

Fossil Record

Centipedes are ancient insects, with their fossil records dating back to over 400 million years ago. These fascinating arthropods have evolved since then, with a few key features:

  • Segmented bodies
  • One pair of legs per segment
  • Venomous forcipules for hunting prey

Taxonomic Classification

There are five orders of extant centipedes, each exhibiting varying characteristics. Taxonomic classification helps us understand the diversity and features of these creatures:

  1. Scutigeromorpha: Fast-moving and long-legged species
  2. Lithobiomorpha: Short-bodied and heavier species
  3. Craterostigmomorpha: Small, primitive centipedes
  4. Scolopendromorpha: Large and aggressive species
  5. Geophilomorpha: Soil-dwelling leggy species

It’s noteworthy that our knowledge of centipede venoms has been mostly limited to the Scolopendromorpha order, which is only one aspect of centipede venom evolution.

Order Characteristics Habitat
Scutigeromorpha Fast-moving, long-legged Diverse
Lithobiomorpha Short-bodied, heavier Terrestrial
Craterostigmomorpha Small, primitive Damp habitats
Scolopendromorpha Large, aggressive Warm climates
Geophilomorpha Soil-dwelling, many legged Terrestrial

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Caribbean Centipede from Dominican Republic

 

Subject: giant centipede in Dominican Republic
Location: Dominican Republic
February 18, 2013 6:26 pm
I encountered this amazing critter in Jaragua Park, Dominican Rep, back in 2007. I can see it’s a ”giant” centipede but searches on the net have just left me confused as to species. Regardless, it was a pretty cool animal – huge!!
On the same trip I also came across this rather fabulous looking snail shell (I can’t recall whether it was occupied) – very striking. Land snail, tree snail?
(Incidentally, this is a great site for bugs and such, but do you know of a similar site for attempting to ID herps??)
Thanks,
Paul Prior
Signature: Paul Prior

Caribbean Giant Centipede

Hi Paul,
Most Giant Tropical Centipedes are in the genus
Scolopendra, and searching for that, we found this image of Scolopendra alternans from Haiti on iNaturalist.  Another iNaturalist page places it in the Bahamas and Haiti.  BugGuide lists some Florida sightings as well.  Vladimir Dinets websiteindicates the common name is Caribbean Giant Centipede.

Caribbean Giant Centipede

 

Letter 2 – Centipede

 

Centipede?
I am from Oklahoma and I have attached a picture of a bug that I found in my bathroom this morning. Not a nice thing to wake up to. I’m assuming it is a centipede. Are they poisonous? It’s body is black and legs an orange/yellow and its head is a dark orange. Its back pinchers are black with orange tips. It is the ugliest thing I have ever seen. I’m guessing it is about 4 inches long (I’m not going to get too close.) Please let me know about this thing.
Thanks,
Katrina Wilson

Hi Katrina,
Centipedes are poisonous, and they will bite. The bite is painful, but not dangerous. Some tropical species have more potent venom. We have read that the Oklahoma Centipedes grow to 8 inches. Your Centipede is in the Order Scolopendromorpha, but we do not know the species.

Letter 3 – Bark Centipede

 

Subject: Centipede brushing his hair
Location: South Carolina
September 25, 2015 7:18 pm
My wife was getting ready to go to bed. After changing clothes she reached for the hair brush. When she felt something tickle her hand, she looked down and screamed. She threw the brush and this not so small centipede against the mirror. When I came to see what was wrong, I found him hiding behind my can of shaving cream. Can you tell me what type he is? Also just so you know, I work on the catch and release program. Especially for the little critters that help me keep the other creepy crawlers out.
Signature: Ron

Bark Centipede
Bark Centipede

Dear Ron,
This is a Bark Centipede in the order Scolopendromorpha, and because of the fat terminal legs, we believe it is either in the family Scolopendridae or Plutoniumidae, based on images posted to BugGuide.  We do not feel confident with any more specific identification, however, due to your “catch and release program” we are tagging this posting with the Bug Humanitarian Award.

Letter 4 – Centipede

 

What the heck is this?
Hi there – after some screaming kids got my attention this morning I captured this into a jar and found your site via Google. Centipede of some sort I suspect – we seem to have a number of these lately – maybe the cooler weather is pushing them inside? Live in Springfield, Missouri – as you can see this puppy is about 2 to 2 3/4 inches long. The photo shows scale tick marks with overlay I did in Photoshop. The picture was taken looking into a gerber baby food jar with macro mode on camera – kinda unique. If you place a bic pen between its tail – at least I think it’s the tail, it will snap the pincers shut and you can feel the clamping force it exerts. I’m not brave enough to try with my finger. So, what is it, besides a centipede and is it harmful at all? thank you – great site – we appreciate your efforts.
Steve Hargis
Springfield, MO

Hi Steve,
BugGuide just lists this as a tropical centipede in the Family Scolopendridae. Their example is from Georgia which is only slightly more tropical than Missouri. I grew up with similar ones in Ohio, but not as large. Centipedes do have poison, and it will cause discomfort. Sorry we can’t be more specific.

Correction: (01/20/2008) Two Centipedes
Regarding centipedes, that from Springfield MO is Theatops spinicaudus Wood, 1871 (order Scolopendromorpha: family Cryptopidae: subfamily Plutoniuminae).
Rowland Shelley
North Carolina State Museum of Natural Sciences

Letter 5 – Centipede

 

Subject: rainbow colored centipede?
Location: vancouver, Wa
March 6, 2016 6:05 am
I have a friend who was out on a walk on February 10 and spotted this guy. This was in North Vancouver, WA known as salmon creek. You have permission to use the photo and my writing for this for your website.
Signature: Jason

Centipede
Centipede

Dear Jason,
Though it is quite colorful, we do not believe this is normal for this Centipede.  We believe it is a Stone Centipede in the order Lithobiomorpha.  We will continue to research this unusual coloration.

Very odd indeed, I am a senior completing a bachelor degree in biology and minor in chemistry and tried doing research on it before emailing you guys.  Almost nothing that bright colored naturally exists in this area so it particularly peaked my interest.
Thanks,
Jason

Letter 6 – Bark Centipede from Colombia

 

Subject:  Creepy scolopendra!
Geographic location of the bug:  Colombia, South America.
Date: 11/13/2017
Time: 11:01 AM EDT
Well, today in a new (and, frankly, creepy) chapter of bugs in my room, a 4 inches long scolopendra just walked into my room through the door as if it was nothing. Welcome to the South. Even though I have phobia to those insects, and against my thirst of hemolymph with these creatures; I caught it, took some pics, and then set it free. I couldn’t really identify its species, though. Could you give me another hand?
How you want your letter signed:  Still terrified, Daniel.

Bark Centipede

Dear Daniel,
We agree that this is a Bark Centipede in the order Scolopendromorpha, but species identification can be difficult due to so many species looking similar as well as due to considerable color and marking variations within a species.  Many species in the order, especially large individuals like the one you encountered, are capable of delivering a painful, venomous bite, so physical contact should be avoided.  The tolerance you demonstrated in catching and releasing this impressive predator has earned you the Bug Humanitarian tag.

Letter 7 – Bark Centipede

 

Subject: Centipede
Location: Columbus, Georgia, USA
July 16, 2015 7:49 am
Dear Bugman,
I have included two pictures of a large centipede I found in my driveway. My question though, is “what KIND of centipede is this?!” He, or she, is huge and very scary looking! I didn’t know centipedes like this live in Georgia! I hope you can help ID my outdoor friend!
Thank you for taking a look!
Shauna
Signature: A bug lover

Bark Centipede
Bark Centipede

Dear Shauna, A bug lover,
According to BugGuide, Centipedes in the family Scolopocryptopidae in the Bark Centipede order Scolopendromorpha have “23 pairs of legs (vs. 21 in other families)” and we counted 23 pairs of legs in your individual, so we believe we have the correct family.  As you can see from the BugGuide sighting map, there are Georgia sightings.

Letter 8 – Beautiful Centipede: Scolopendra heros

 

Any ideas what type of centipede this is? Is is harmful? It was found in a garage in a subdivision about 20 miles south of Tucson, AZ.

I don’t know your species but it is surely beautiful. If it bites, you will probably have minor irritation because of the poison fangs. Not serious though.

Ed. Note: WE just received this letter with an identification.
(08/11/2005) Centipede species ID
Hi, Great site! The link was posted on an arachnid (mostly couple subforums devoted to vertebrates, myriapods, and other insects) forum that I frequent (Arachnoboards). Spent about 20 minutes looking through the beetle pictures and found it instantly helpful for a beetle my gf found in our apartment a couple days ago (false bombardier beetle, I forget the scientific name I’m better with tarantula/scorpion names). Anyway, the main reason I’m sending you this email is that there is a picture of a centipede that you have listed as unidentified. Orangish-red body, yellow legs, black head and the submitter being from the desert southwest ( Arizona to be specific) it is a Scolopendra heros but I’m not sure on the subspecies. I wanted to say S. heros castaneiceps but the color pattern is almost reversed as they have a black body/tail with a red head, then again with centipedes and especially Scolopendras, color patterns aren’t the most reliable L Anyway, you should be safe to say it is a Scolopendra heros, we have S. polymorpha here in the US as well but their color patterns are significantly different as far as I know. Regardless, Scolopendras have some rather nasty venom and centipede size is often proportional to amount of venom injected, S. subspinipes from the tropics are reportedly as painful as a male platypus (some say they wouldn’t wish it on their enemies or would’ve rather cut the offending limb off) even morphine has little to no effect on the pain. I did read some medical articles that were published on the internet and one was a study of centipede envenomations in the United States . Heat would actually reduce the pain such as a warm wash cloth. If you would like more info on this genus let me know, I know some people on that forum who are quite knowledgeable in regards to centipedes (one of the mods is working on a master’s in Entomology, scorpions, as well). And again, excellent site and very helpful as a quick reference I’ve been looking for one for a few months now but no luck through Google somehow lol. Best Wishes,
Josh

Letter 9 – Centipede

 

BigPede with Pinchers??
Hello BugMan….
What is this?? He/she/it fell on a woman during a training class. We were a little surprised someone had finally screamed out loud but we soon found out it was not because of the material being presented. I was able to identify the Velvet Ant and Cicada Killer because of your site and am grateful for all the wonderful pictures! I am currently about and hour and a half outside of Oklahoma City and have been quite fascinated with the "larger than life" insects around here. I am from Oregon and we don’t see insect of this magnitude very often! Thank you in advance!
~S
Ps This bug was not killed, it was however, chilled to be transported for a collection… I do not what the future holds for this Pede.

Hi S,
We have heard that these centipedes in the genus Scolopendra from Oklahoma can grow to 8 inches long. They have venom and will bite.

Letter 10 – Centipede

 

bug question
Hi, Bugman,
I stumbled upon your site, while searching for snow fleas, which a local pest company said my bug was. However I don’t believe that is it, having checked the pix I have seen, and descriptions.
I had sent them a photo I took, which I am sending. the bug was the size of a millipede- a little over an inch as I recall. I found it soon after I moved in, and picked it up (thinking it was dead) and was very surprized to have a stinging sensation which persisted for maybe 10 minutes after I wshed my hands. This is why I took the photo (on a paper towel) hoping to identify it. I never saw another.
Blessings,
Wanda

Hi Wanda,
We believe you have sent in a photo of a centipede. They are poisonous, but the bite is generally mild. Some large species grow to 8 inches or more and have a very painful bite.

Letter 11 – Centipede

 

What is this bug?!?!?!?
Dear What’s That Bug:
I found this bug in my bathroom. Is it some sort of centipede or millipede? I couldn’t find a picture of it on the web. I tried to kill it but it wouldn’t die. Mean, huh? Its legs moved in waves. We live in Iowa. I have never seen this before – do you know?
Thanks for being on the web – great site!
Brea Lewis
Sioux City, Iowa

Hi Brea,
You have a centipede. They do contain poison glands and some species, especially the large centipedes from Texas and Oklahoma, can give a painful bite.

Letter 12 – Centipede

 

Centipede
Location: southwestern Ohio
June 24, 2011 2:48 pm
I am trying to identify this centipede species. It was found in the woods under a rock near a creek.The area it was found in was southwestern Ohio.The centipede was small and yellow in color. It had similarities to a Garden Centipede but was different. The tail end section was much fatter than that of the Garden Centipede. I’m sure it is common but I do not know the species.
Signature: Caveman Etris

Centipede

Dear Caveman Etris,
The terminal appendages on your Centipede are very distinctive.  We believe your individual may be
Theatops posticus or a related species in the genus, based on this and other photos posted to BugGuide.  The range of the species is not indicated on BugGuide, however the data page on bugGuide indicates a northerly sighting from North Carolina.

Letter 13 – Centipede

 

Centipede ID
Location: Canada de Pala Trail, Joseph D. Grant Park, San Jose, CA
November 2, 2011 2:42 pm
Dear Bugman,
I found this colorful centipede on the trail in Joseph D. Grant Park, San Jose, CA, November 1, 2011, elevation 2,600’ in the late afternoon. It is about 4 inches long. I took a photo of it and didn’t touch it, as I didn’t want to alarm it. It was solitary. Is it a Scolopendra polymorpha? It had turqouise green and orange coloring. A lovely thing.
Signature: Holly

Centipede

Hi Holly,
Congratulations on your excellent job of identification.  We agree that this is most likely
Scolopendra polymorpha based on photos posted to BugGuide.  You were wise not to touch it as they are capable of biting.


Hello Daniel,
Thank you for your speedy and helpful reply.  I’m glad I didn’t touch it.  🙂  I have never seen a centipede before, it felt like a mega-fauna sighting – surprising to see on the trail in grasslands.
All the Best,
Holly

Letter 14 – Centipede

 

Subject: What is this
Location: Atlanta, GA
June 11, 2014 9:29 pm
Hello,
This was on my bed the other night. Can you tell me what it is? Is it posoinous?
Thanks,
Signature: Phil

Centipede
Centipede

Hi PHil,
This is a Centipede in the order  Scolopendromorpha and though it is not deadly, it is venomous and it should be handled with caution as it may produce a painful bite.

Letter 15 – Centipede

 

Subject: Wondering what this is
Location: Frederic, MI
June 6, 2015 10:23 am
My mom found this bug on her pillow. It’s long like a snake, but looks like a cross between a centipede and a millipede. The first picture shows it normal, the second picture we tried to flip it over to see the bottom of it. Please help.
Signature: Barbie

Centipede
Centipede

Dear Barbie,
This is indeed a Centipede, and though we cannot be certain, it resembles members of the family Cryptopidae that are pictured on BugGuide.

Letter 16 – Centipede contained with shaving cream!!!

 

Subject: Dear Bug Expert
Location: South East Texas
September 24, 2015 8:35 am
Bugman I don’t know what kind of centipede this is. Or if it even is one! Sorry about the shaving cream my little sister found this in her room and sent me a picture. I was laughing because she said she didn’t want to harm it. (She’s 16)
Signature: -Scared Sister

Centipede contained with shaving cream
Centipede contained with shaving cream

Dear Scared Sister,
While we are unable to provide you with any more specific information about this Centipede, we are very amused with your sister’s creative use of shaving cream to contain the critter.  We can’t help but to wonder what ever happened to the many legged predator.

Surprisingly the critter drowned it self trying to get out. I had no idea this would work. After that my dad just burned it. I really wanted to know what kind of centipede it was because I’ve only seen about three kinds never that kind. But it’s okay, how harmful are centipedes?

Some Centipedes can deliver a painful bite.

Letter 17 – Centipede Dead in Garage

 

Subject: Odd Brown Bug
Location: Maumelle, Arkansas
December 8, 2015 2:41 pm
These have recently appeared in and around my garage in central Arkansas. Any ideas? It looks like a cross between a roach and a caterpillar!
Signature: Amy in Arkansas

Centipede Dead in Garage
Centipede Dead in Garage

Dear Amy,
We are very concerned about what killed this Centipede in your garage.  Centipedes are beneficial, predatory hunters that will help control the populations of crawling creatures in your habitat, keeping populations in check.  A large number of Centipedes indicates a thriving diet for them.  Remove the Centipedes and things may go out of balance.  Your Centipede appears to have but 13 pairs of legs.  We will try to identify it more specifically.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Caribbean Centipede from Dominican Republic

 

Subject: giant centipede in Dominican Republic
Location: Dominican Republic
February 18, 2013 6:26 pm
I encountered this amazing critter in Jaragua Park, Dominican Rep, back in 2007. I can see it’s a ”giant” centipede but searches on the net have just left me confused as to species. Regardless, it was a pretty cool animal – huge!!
On the same trip I also came across this rather fabulous looking snail shell (I can’t recall whether it was occupied) – very striking. Land snail, tree snail?
(Incidentally, this is a great site for bugs and such, but do you know of a similar site for attempting to ID herps??)
Thanks,
Paul Prior
Signature: Paul Prior

Caribbean Giant Centipede

Hi Paul,
Most Giant Tropical Centipedes are in the genus
Scolopendra, and searching for that, we found this image of Scolopendra alternans from Haiti on iNaturalist.  Another iNaturalist page places it in the Bahamas and Haiti.  BugGuide lists some Florida sightings as well.  Vladimir Dinets websiteindicates the common name is Caribbean Giant Centipede.

Caribbean Giant Centipede

 

Letter 2 – Centipede

 

Centipede?
I am from Oklahoma and I have attached a picture of a bug that I found in my bathroom this morning. Not a nice thing to wake up to. I’m assuming it is a centipede. Are they poisonous? It’s body is black and legs an orange/yellow and its head is a dark orange. Its back pinchers are black with orange tips. It is the ugliest thing I have ever seen. I’m guessing it is about 4 inches long (I’m not going to get too close.) Please let me know about this thing.
Thanks,
Katrina Wilson

Hi Katrina,
Centipedes are poisonous, and they will bite. The bite is painful, but not dangerous. Some tropical species have more potent venom. We have read that the Oklahoma Centipedes grow to 8 inches. Your Centipede is in the Order Scolopendromorpha, but we do not know the species.

Letter 3 – Bark Centipede

 

Subject: Centipede brushing his hair
Location: South Carolina
September 25, 2015 7:18 pm
My wife was getting ready to go to bed. After changing clothes she reached for the hair brush. When she felt something tickle her hand, she looked down and screamed. She threw the brush and this not so small centipede against the mirror. When I came to see what was wrong, I found him hiding behind my can of shaving cream. Can you tell me what type he is? Also just so you know, I work on the catch and release program. Especially for the little critters that help me keep the other creepy crawlers out.
Signature: Ron

Bark Centipede
Bark Centipede

Dear Ron,
This is a Bark Centipede in the order Scolopendromorpha, and because of the fat terminal legs, we believe it is either in the family Scolopendridae or Plutoniumidae, based on images posted to BugGuide.  We do not feel confident with any more specific identification, however, due to your “catch and release program” we are tagging this posting with the Bug Humanitarian Award.

Letter 4 – Centipede

 

What the heck is this?
Hi there – after some screaming kids got my attention this morning I captured this into a jar and found your site via Google. Centipede of some sort I suspect – we seem to have a number of these lately – maybe the cooler weather is pushing them inside? Live in Springfield, Missouri – as you can see this puppy is about 2 to 2 3/4 inches long. The photo shows scale tick marks with overlay I did in Photoshop. The picture was taken looking into a gerber baby food jar with macro mode on camera – kinda unique. If you place a bic pen between its tail – at least I think it’s the tail, it will snap the pincers shut and you can feel the clamping force it exerts. I’m not brave enough to try with my finger. So, what is it, besides a centipede and is it harmful at all? thank you – great site – we appreciate your efforts.
Steve Hargis
Springfield, MO

Hi Steve,
BugGuide just lists this as a tropical centipede in the Family Scolopendridae. Their example is from Georgia which is only slightly more tropical than Missouri. I grew up with similar ones in Ohio, but not as large. Centipedes do have poison, and it will cause discomfort. Sorry we can’t be more specific.

Correction: (01/20/2008) Two Centipedes
Regarding centipedes, that from Springfield MO is Theatops spinicaudus Wood, 1871 (order Scolopendromorpha: family Cryptopidae: subfamily Plutoniuminae).
Rowland Shelley
North Carolina State Museum of Natural Sciences

Letter 5 – Centipede

 

Subject: rainbow colored centipede?
Location: vancouver, Wa
March 6, 2016 6:05 am
I have a friend who was out on a walk on February 10 and spotted this guy. This was in North Vancouver, WA known as salmon creek. You have permission to use the photo and my writing for this for your website.
Signature: Jason

Centipede
Centipede

Dear Jason,
Though it is quite colorful, we do not believe this is normal for this Centipede.  We believe it is a Stone Centipede in the order Lithobiomorpha.  We will continue to research this unusual coloration.

Very odd indeed, I am a senior completing a bachelor degree in biology and minor in chemistry and tried doing research on it before emailing you guys.  Almost nothing that bright colored naturally exists in this area so it particularly peaked my interest.
Thanks,
Jason

Letter 6 – Bark Centipede from Colombia

 

Subject:  Creepy scolopendra!
Geographic location of the bug:  Colombia, South America.
Date: 11/13/2017
Time: 11:01 AM EDT
Well, today in a new (and, frankly, creepy) chapter of bugs in my room, a 4 inches long scolopendra just walked into my room through the door as if it was nothing. Welcome to the South. Even though I have phobia to those insects, and against my thirst of hemolymph with these creatures; I caught it, took some pics, and then set it free. I couldn’t really identify its species, though. Could you give me another hand?
How you want your letter signed:  Still terrified, Daniel.

Bark Centipede

Dear Daniel,
We agree that this is a Bark Centipede in the order Scolopendromorpha, but species identification can be difficult due to so many species looking similar as well as due to considerable color and marking variations within a species.  Many species in the order, especially large individuals like the one you encountered, are capable of delivering a painful, venomous bite, so physical contact should be avoided.  The tolerance you demonstrated in catching and releasing this impressive predator has earned you the Bug Humanitarian tag.

Letter 7 – Bark Centipede

 

Subject: Centipede
Location: Columbus, Georgia, USA
July 16, 2015 7:49 am
Dear Bugman,
I have included two pictures of a large centipede I found in my driveway. My question though, is “what KIND of centipede is this?!” He, or she, is huge and very scary looking! I didn’t know centipedes like this live in Georgia! I hope you can help ID my outdoor friend!
Thank you for taking a look!
Shauna
Signature: A bug lover

Bark Centipede
Bark Centipede

Dear Shauna, A bug lover,
According to BugGuide, Centipedes in the family Scolopocryptopidae in the Bark Centipede order Scolopendromorpha have “23 pairs of legs (vs. 21 in other families)” and we counted 23 pairs of legs in your individual, so we believe we have the correct family.  As you can see from the BugGuide sighting map, there are Georgia sightings.

Letter 8 – Beautiful Centipede: Scolopendra heros

 

Any ideas what type of centipede this is? Is is harmful? It was found in a garage in a subdivision about 20 miles south of Tucson, AZ.

I don’t know your species but it is surely beautiful. If it bites, you will probably have minor irritation because of the poison fangs. Not serious though.

Ed. Note: WE just received this letter with an identification.
(08/11/2005) Centipede species ID
Hi, Great site! The link was posted on an arachnid (mostly couple subforums devoted to vertebrates, myriapods, and other insects) forum that I frequent (Arachnoboards). Spent about 20 minutes looking through the beetle pictures and found it instantly helpful for a beetle my gf found in our apartment a couple days ago (false bombardier beetle, I forget the scientific name I’m better with tarantula/scorpion names). Anyway, the main reason I’m sending you this email is that there is a picture of a centipede that you have listed as unidentified. Orangish-red body, yellow legs, black head and the submitter being from the desert southwest ( Arizona to be specific) it is a Scolopendra heros but I’m not sure on the subspecies. I wanted to say S. heros castaneiceps but the color pattern is almost reversed as they have a black body/tail with a red head, then again with centipedes and especially Scolopendras, color patterns aren’t the most reliable L Anyway, you should be safe to say it is a Scolopendra heros, we have S. polymorpha here in the US as well but their color patterns are significantly different as far as I know. Regardless, Scolopendras have some rather nasty venom and centipede size is often proportional to amount of venom injected, S. subspinipes from the tropics are reportedly as painful as a male platypus (some say they wouldn’t wish it on their enemies or would’ve rather cut the offending limb off) even morphine has little to no effect on the pain. I did read some medical articles that were published on the internet and one was a study of centipede envenomations in the United States . Heat would actually reduce the pain such as a warm wash cloth. If you would like more info on this genus let me know, I know some people on that forum who are quite knowledgeable in regards to centipedes (one of the mods is working on a master’s in Entomology, scorpions, as well). And again, excellent site and very helpful as a quick reference I’ve been looking for one for a few months now but no luck through Google somehow lol. Best Wishes,
Josh

Letter 9 – Centipede

 

BigPede with Pinchers??
Hello BugMan….
What is this?? He/she/it fell on a woman during a training class. We were a little surprised someone had finally screamed out loud but we soon found out it was not because of the material being presented. I was able to identify the Velvet Ant and Cicada Killer because of your site and am grateful for all the wonderful pictures! I am currently about and hour and a half outside of Oklahoma City and have been quite fascinated with the "larger than life" insects around here. I am from Oregon and we don’t see insect of this magnitude very often! Thank you in advance!
~S
Ps This bug was not killed, it was however, chilled to be transported for a collection… I do not what the future holds for this Pede.

Hi S,
We have heard that these centipedes in the genus Scolopendra from Oklahoma can grow to 8 inches long. They have venom and will bite.

Letter 10 – Centipede

 

bug question
Hi, Bugman,
I stumbled upon your site, while searching for snow fleas, which a local pest company said my bug was. However I don’t believe that is it, having checked the pix I have seen, and descriptions.
I had sent them a photo I took, which I am sending. the bug was the size of a millipede- a little over an inch as I recall. I found it soon after I moved in, and picked it up (thinking it was dead) and was very surprized to have a stinging sensation which persisted for maybe 10 minutes after I wshed my hands. This is why I took the photo (on a paper towel) hoping to identify it. I never saw another.
Blessings,
Wanda

Hi Wanda,
We believe you have sent in a photo of a centipede. They are poisonous, but the bite is generally mild. Some large species grow to 8 inches or more and have a very painful bite.

Letter 11 – Centipede

 

What is this bug?!?!?!?
Dear What’s That Bug:
I found this bug in my bathroom. Is it some sort of centipede or millipede? I couldn’t find a picture of it on the web. I tried to kill it but it wouldn’t die. Mean, huh? Its legs moved in waves. We live in Iowa. I have never seen this before – do you know?
Thanks for being on the web – great site!
Brea Lewis
Sioux City, Iowa

Hi Brea,
You have a centipede. They do contain poison glands and some species, especially the large centipedes from Texas and Oklahoma, can give a painful bite.

Letter 12 – Centipede

 

Centipede
Location: southwestern Ohio
June 24, 2011 2:48 pm
I am trying to identify this centipede species. It was found in the woods under a rock near a creek.The area it was found in was southwestern Ohio.The centipede was small and yellow in color. It had similarities to a Garden Centipede but was different. The tail end section was much fatter than that of the Garden Centipede. I’m sure it is common but I do not know the species.
Signature: Caveman Etris

Centipede

Dear Caveman Etris,
The terminal appendages on your Centipede are very distinctive.  We believe your individual may be
Theatops posticus or a related species in the genus, based on this and other photos posted to BugGuide.  The range of the species is not indicated on BugGuide, however the data page on bugGuide indicates a northerly sighting from North Carolina.

Letter 13 – Centipede

 

Centipede ID
Location: Canada de Pala Trail, Joseph D. Grant Park, San Jose, CA
November 2, 2011 2:42 pm
Dear Bugman,
I found this colorful centipede on the trail in Joseph D. Grant Park, San Jose, CA, November 1, 2011, elevation 2,600’ in the late afternoon. It is about 4 inches long. I took a photo of it and didn’t touch it, as I didn’t want to alarm it. It was solitary. Is it a Scolopendra polymorpha? It had turqouise green and orange coloring. A lovely thing.
Signature: Holly

Centipede

Hi Holly,
Congratulations on your excellent job of identification.  We agree that this is most likely
Scolopendra polymorpha based on photos posted to BugGuide.  You were wise not to touch it as they are capable of biting.


Hello Daniel,
Thank you for your speedy and helpful reply.  I’m glad I didn’t touch it.  🙂  I have never seen a centipede before, it felt like a mega-fauna sighting – surprising to see on the trail in grasslands.
All the Best,
Holly

Letter 14 – Centipede

 

Subject: What is this
Location: Atlanta, GA
June 11, 2014 9:29 pm
Hello,
This was on my bed the other night. Can you tell me what it is? Is it posoinous?
Thanks,
Signature: Phil

Centipede
Centipede

Hi PHil,
This is a Centipede in the order  Scolopendromorpha and though it is not deadly, it is venomous and it should be handled with caution as it may produce a painful bite.

Letter 15 – Centipede

 

Subject: Wondering what this is
Location: Frederic, MI
June 6, 2015 10:23 am
My mom found this bug on her pillow. It’s long like a snake, but looks like a cross between a centipede and a millipede. The first picture shows it normal, the second picture we tried to flip it over to see the bottom of it. Please help.
Signature: Barbie

Centipede
Centipede

Dear Barbie,
This is indeed a Centipede, and though we cannot be certain, it resembles members of the family Cryptopidae that are pictured on BugGuide.

Letter 16 – Centipede contained with shaving cream!!!

 

Subject: Dear Bug Expert
Location: South East Texas
September 24, 2015 8:35 am
Bugman I don’t know what kind of centipede this is. Or if it even is one! Sorry about the shaving cream my little sister found this in her room and sent me a picture. I was laughing because she said she didn’t want to harm it. (She’s 16)
Signature: -Scared Sister

Centipede contained with shaving cream
Centipede contained with shaving cream

Dear Scared Sister,
While we are unable to provide you with any more specific information about this Centipede, we are very amused with your sister’s creative use of shaving cream to contain the critter.  We can’t help but to wonder what ever happened to the many legged predator.

Surprisingly the critter drowned it self trying to get out. I had no idea this would work. After that my dad just burned it. I really wanted to know what kind of centipede it was because I’ve only seen about three kinds never that kind. But it’s okay, how harmful are centipedes?

Some Centipedes can deliver a painful bite.

Letter 17 – Centipede Dead in Garage

 

Subject: Odd Brown Bug
Location: Maumelle, Arkansas
December 8, 2015 2:41 pm
These have recently appeared in and around my garage in central Arkansas. Any ideas? It looks like a cross between a roach and a caterpillar!
Signature: Amy in Arkansas

Centipede Dead in Garage
Centipede Dead in Garage

Dear Amy,
We are very concerned about what killed this Centipede in your garage.  Centipedes are beneficial, predatory hunters that will help control the populations of crawling creatures in your habitat, keeping populations in check.  A large number of Centipedes indicates a thriving diet for them.  Remove the Centipedes and things may go out of balance.  Your Centipede appears to have but 13 pairs of legs.  We will try to identify it more specifically.

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

29 thoughts on “Centipede Adaptations: Exploring their Survival Secrets”

  1. No ring furrow => Scolopendra alternans. The only New World Scolopendra specie without it (except introduced S. subspinipes).

    Reply
  2. I know this post is several years ok’d, but I just saw it and that looks like Scolopendra heros to me, though I am no expert

    Reply
  3. Might want to be careful the next time you go to bed!!!!
    If you find one again kill it, they can kill a full grown dog or small child.

    Reply
  4. Might want to be careful the next time you go to bed!!!!
    If you find one again kill it, they can kill a full grown dog or small child.

    Reply
    • Please provide us with links to the information you have provided. Our readers are often alarmed at creatures they find. If dogs and children are in mortal danger from a Centipede bite, there must be some reputable information online, and we cannot locate a reputable source. Detailed information on MedLine Plus incudes: “Symptoms usually last fewer than 48 hours. Severe allergic reactions or contact with exotic types of centipedes may require more treatment, including hospitalization.” According to Desert USA: “Centipedes of the United States, especially the larger ones such as the giant desert centipede (Scolopendra heros) and the banded desert centipede (Scolopendra polymorpha), can inflict an intensely painful, though rarely (if ever) fatal, bite, or more accurately, a pinch.” According to the Top 10 Deadliest Bugs: “While centipedes aren’t insects that are responsible for tons and tons of deaths, you’d be surprised to find out that every two years one person does die due to a centipede bite. This is usually due to an allergic reaction to the venom that the bug can inject into your body when it bites you. However, it’s rare that one is so allergic to this venom that it kills them.”

      Reply
  5. Hello. Lithobius sps that is dead and rotting in water. It’s common for dead, rotting centipedes to turn green in places or all over, or lose color in places depending on the amount of time gone by.

    Reply
  6. I have a pet toad and I found what looks like a scolopendromorpha centipede. I tried feeding it to the toad and it had an extremely difficult time with it as it looked like a grappling match. Lol. The toad could not swallow it no matter how many times that it tried. Iowa’s wondering if the centipede is any threat to do harm to the toad either when it attempts to eat it or if it actually managed to swallow it? I read online that centipedes are on a toad’s menu of bugs it eats. Thanks

    Reply
  7. that is not in the order scolopendra, it is actually in the order theatops, a order that has six species known, four of which live only in north america. and you don’t have to worry about the claw at the end, its the front end you have to worry about!

    Reply
  8. I was in turkey and had one dart at me while snorkelling and swam away as fast as possible for fear it was venomous and it looked exactly like the photo, may not sound believable but I needed to know whether anyone else had seen it and am glad to find this

    Reply
  9. Phew! Thanks for the Humanitarian recognition!
    Well, its tail (?) was completely red and white stripped, its head was black, and it had red antennas; I don’t know if that information helps to get at least to a guess of the species. And about the bite, I know lol, I was bitten once so my phobia comes from that experience. It was actually pretty hard to catch and I’m really proud of getting the Bug Humanitarian recognition, thank you so much.

    Reply
  10. Phew! Thanks for the Humanitarian recognition!
    Well, its tail (?) was completely red and white stripped, its head was black, and it had red antennas; I don’t know if that information helps to get at least to a guess of the species. And about the bite, I know lol, I was bitten once so my phobia comes from that experience. It was actually pretty hard to catch and I’m really proud of getting the Bug Humanitarian recognition, thank you so much.

    Reply
    • Yours looks like Hemiscolopendra marginata, the eastern bark centipede. Your location would be helpful in confirming that

      Reply
  11. Are these venomous to humans sorry but I don’t really like spiders and or centipedes and anything that crawls around thanks in advanced I just moved to South Carolina and I have been finding them in my bathroom on occasionally

    Reply

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