Centipedes are fascinating creatures known for their numerous legs and speedy movements. You might be curious about their eating habits and what they survive on in their natural habitats. In this article, we’ll explore the diet of these interesting arthropods and delve into their feeding behaviors.
As an active and rapid predator, centipedes primarily feed on small arthropods, with a preference for insects. They are usually found in damp, dark areas such as under stones, leaf mulch, or logs and use their venomous jaws to catch and eat their prey. They are fast runners, which enable them to chase down even the swiftest of insects.
Indoors, centipedes can be found in areas like basements, closets, bathrooms, or any place where other insects reside. During the day, they tend to hide in dark corners and crevices, emerging at night to hunt for their next meal, making them nocturnal predators. So, if you find a centipede in your home, it’s likely on a mission to feast on unwanted insects such as spiders, ants, or even bed bugs.
Centipedes are predatory arthropods belonging to the class Chilopoda and are part of the larger group of creatures called Myriapoda. These fascinating creatures are known for their elongated, multi-segmented bodies and numerous legs. They come in various sizes and lengths, but one characteristic that is common among them is their impressive speed and agility in hunting smaller insects and arachnids.
An interesting feature of centipedes is their forcipules, or venomous pincers, located near their heads. These specialized appendages help them both catch and paralyze their prey. Additionally, centipedes are equipped with an elongated pair of antennae on their head which they use for sensing their environment and locating potential prey.
Types of Centipedes
There are numerous centipede species found worldwide, each coming in different sizes and features. Here are a few examples to give you an idea of their diversity:
- Stone centipedes (Lithobiomorpha) are commonly found in gardens and are typically small, ranging from 1 to 2 inches in length. They usually have around 15 to 30 pairs of legs.
- House centipedes (Scutigera) can be found in residential areas and possess long, hair-like legs. They grow up to 1.5 inches long and have 15 pairs of legs.
- Tropical centipedes (Scolopendromorpha) can reach up to 12 inches in length and have approximately 20 to 25 pairs of legs. Some common species within this group include the Giant Centipede and Amazonian Giant Centipede.
Here’s a comparison table to provide a quick overview of these types:
|Type of Centipede
|Size / Length
|Pairs of Legs
|up to 1.5 inches
|up to 12 inches
Remember that this is just a brief overview of centipedes, and there are many more unique and fascinating species out there waiting to be discovered!
Centipedes’ Natural Habitat
Centipedes thrive in damp and dark environments. They prefer areas with sufficient moisture, which helps them maintain their body hydration. These creatures need a habitat that supports their diet of small insects and arthropods.
For example, centipedes often reside near soil, rocks, or leaf piles that have a high moisture content. They can also be found in tropical regions where humidity levels are typically higher.
In the wild, centipedes can be found in various outdoors locations. Some of the common habitats include:
- Under rocks: Centipedes often seek shelter beneath rocks, where it is moist and dark.
- In soil: Loose, moist soil is an ideal environment for centipedes to hunt for their prey.
- Leaf piles and compost: Decomposing organic matter provides both moisture and potential food sources.
- Tropical regions: These areas offer higher humidity levels suitable for centipedes.
When centipedes venture indoors, they can be found in the following areas:
- Basements: Due to their damp conditions and presence of insects, basements make suitable habitats for centipedes.
- Crawl spaces: These tight, dark areas provide centipedes with a space to hide and hunt for prey.
- Bathrooms or closets: If there is enough moisture and food sources, centipedes may take up residence in these rooms as well.
Remember, by understanding the natural habitat of centipedes, you can better predict where you might encounter these creatures. Regularly checking and maintaining these areas can help prevent them from finding a comfortable home in your living spaces.
Diet of Centipedes
General Eating Habits
Centipedes are primarily carnivorous and active predators. They usually hunt for their food at night, often residing in damp and dark places during the day, such as under stones, leaf mulch, or logs. They are fast runners, which is crucial for catching their prey.
The diet of centipedes mainly consists of various small animals and invertebrates, including:
In some instances, they might also prey on small lizards. Centipedes use their venomous jaws to catch and subdue their prey, allowing them to consume a variety of creatures. Since centipedes are opportunistic hunters, they might feed on different types of prey based on availability.
Pro Tip: To help maintain a friendly and balanced ecosystem in your garden, you can encourage the presence of centipedes as a natural way to control pests such as roaches and crickets. However, remember to wear gloves and exercise caution when handling them, as some species can inject venom that might cause slight discomfort or an allergic reaction.
Lifestyle and Behavior
Centipedes are mostly nocturnal creatures, meaning they are active during the night and rest during the day. They usually hide in dark and damp places like leaf litter, soil, and other hiding spots. Also, they require a humid environment for survival, so you will often find them under pots or rocks that are near a water source.
Feeding and Hunting Methods
These fascinating arthropods are predatory in nature, and their dietary preferences primarily include small insects and spiders. They use their venomous jaws to catch and eat their prey. As centipedes are fast runners and hunters, their agility plays a major role in locating and capturing food.
When hunting, centipedes rely on their sophisticated venomous bite to paralyze or kill their prey. Their venom is not only potent to their food but may also cause minor irritation to humans. Nevertheless, venomous bites from centipedes rarely pose a serious threat to people.
In summary, centipedes exhibit intriguing nocturnal and predatory behavior. They are active hunters that utilize their venom to capture and eat various small insects and spiders, adapting well to their surrounding environment.
Centipedes and Humans
Bites and Health Risks
Centipedes are predatory venomous arthropods that use their fangs, called forcipules, to inject venom into their prey. When a centipede bites a human, it can cause pain, swelling, and in some cases, an allergic reaction. Although centipede bites are generally not life-threatening to humans, they can be quite painful and uncomfortable. Remember to take proper care if bitten by a centipede, such as immediately cleaning and disinfecting the wound and seeking medical attention if severe symptoms occur.
As Household Pests
House centipedes can become household pests when they venture into your home in search of food and shelter. They are fast runners, which enables them to catch and eat insects and other small animals. While they may not damage your property or belongings, their presence can be unsettling due to their appearance and rapid movements. It’s not uncommon for homeowners to want to find ways for getting rid of centipedes.
Benefits and Pest Control
Despite their status as pests, centipedes can actually be beneficial in some ways. They feed on other pests, such as ants, cockroaches, and spiders, which can help keep these other unwanted creatures under control. To prevent centipedes from entering your home:
- Seal any gaps, cracks, or openings in your home’s exterior walls, doors, and windows
- Keep your home clutter-free to reduce hiding spots for pests
- Manage moisture by using dehumidifiers or fixing leaky plumbing
If you still have a centipede problem, you can consider using pest control measures, such as insecticides or glue traps. However, always weigh the pros and cons of these methods before using them, and remember that centipedes can play a helpful role in controlling other pests in your home.
Reproduction and Life Cycle
Centipedes mate by depositing a spermatophore for the female to pick up. In some species, the male and female perform an intricate dance before the spermatophore is picked up by the female. Mating usually takes place in spring and summer, when the conditions are most suitable for reproduction.
Birth and Growth
Female centipedes lay their eggs in damp soil, cracks, or crevices to provide a safe and humid environment for their eggs. The number of eggs laid can vary depending on the species. After hatching, the young centipedes go through several molting stages before reaching maturity. Some species can live as long as five or six years. As they grow, they might add segments and legs, while others are born with their complete set of legs.
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 – Florida Blue Centipede
Below is a centipede found yesterday in my livingroom in upstate South Carolina. (Our home is surrounded by woods, if that helps ID.) It is about 2.5 inches long and speedy. Sorry about the lighting changes in the photos. He was moving so fast, I had a hard time just getting a picture in which his/her legs weren’t blurred. After browsing through your awesome site, I’m guessing it is some sort of multi-colored centipede. Would you agree? I’m unsure and emailing primarily because I keep reading elsewhere that they live in the western U.S. I have two very enthusiastic little nature "collectors" (photos only) that I don’t care to see bitten. Thanks,
I’m too impatient. I just found him on bugguide.net. He’s a Florida Blue Centipede (Hemiscolopendra Marginata). Thanks anyway. Your site is invaluable to our bug ID efforts.
We are happy you have correctly identified your Florida Blue Centipede, Hemiscolopendra marginata. We do not stay tethered to the computer, and only post new letters once a day.
Letter 2 – Fire Centipede from Gabon secretes Bioluminescent Slime
Location: Fougamou, Gabon 1°13`S 10°36`E
September 19, 2010 5:19 am
during a stay in Gabon I took this picture of a centripede. After contact he showed this green fluorescence.
Do you know how it is called?
We had never heard of a Centipede that exhibited bioluminescence, so we hit the search engines in an attempt to answer your questions. Surprisingly, the Orkin website had this information: “The so-called ‘fire centipede’ is a name used to refer to any centipede that exhibits bioluminescence. Often nocturnal, bioluminescent centipedes are uncommon and are not associated with any particular habitat. One fire centipede of repute is widely distributed in tropical Asia and Africa. Known to be the Orphaneus brevilabiatus, the said fire centipede would look something akin to a necklace of precious jewels if one were to come across it on a moonless night. A certain chemical substance secreted by the fire centipede produces this bioluminescence. The light appears to come from the secretions of two luminous patches near the ends of each segment of the centipede’s body. The source of the light is beneath the body of the insect and can be made out through the exterior. Another centipede that glows in the dark is the Geophilus electricus. This fire centipede is long and yellowish in color. Other than centipedes, millipedes also glow. Endemic to the Sierra Nevada of California, the species of millipedes designated as Luminodesmus sequoiae is known to emit light at night. From the moment they hatch, these millipedes glow. The source of their light is embedded in the deeper layers of their integument. Their luminescence is continuous, with no voluntary control.” Our next stop was the Photochemistry and Photobiology page of the Wiley Online Library where the Biochemistry of Centipede Bioluminescense by James Michael Anderson was profiled along with this information: “The centipede (Orphaneous brevilabiatus) secretes a bioluminescent slime. The corrected emission spectrum of this luminescence was found to have maxima at about 510 and 480 nm. The reaction was found to require both a luciferin and luciferase and showed an unusually low pH optimum (4.6). Oxygen was required for the reaction, but oxygen could interact with one of the components allowing for anaerobic light emission.” In an online article entitled Animals that use Bioluminescence by N. David, the author writes: “Some varieties of centipede, known collectively as fire centipedes, are also bioluminescent.” A message board on the Wild About Britain website has an interesting dialog that refers to a Centipede that may be in the genus Geophilus. We were now satisfied that you actually encountered a bioluminescent Centipede which dispelled our first thought that somehow your camera captured a stray light source or that the digital photo file was somehow corrupted. We eventually found a photo of Geophilus carpophagus on the Natural England website where its bioluminescence was mentioned, and it does seem to resemble your specimen, but we are reluctant to provide any genus or species identification for you, preferring instead to have a chilopodist (could that be the name given to a centipede expert?) supply that information instead. We hope the more generic common name Fire Centipede will satisfy your curiosity.
thank you very much for your quick and extensive answer!
Letter 3 – Flag Tailed Centipede from Kenya
Subject: Requesting Postive ID
Location: Kenya, Rift Valley
August 20, 2012 2:38 pm
Hello, this guy actually fell from my ceiling missing my shoulder by about 5”. Its winter here in Kenya. I suspect it’s an Amazonian centipede, but what do I know?
Thanks so much,
Signature: J. Tinsman
Dear J. Tinsman,
This is a Tropical Centipede in the order Scolopendromorpha. Beyond that, we cannot say much without doing some research except we would bet it is native to Kenya and not Amazonian. Those terminal legs are quite impressive. With regards to the order, according to BugGuide: “They can bite and also pinch with their last pair of legs. Bites may cause intense pain, swelling, discoloration, numbness, and necrosis, and require medical assistance, although there are no really dangerous, deadly centipedes, and no confirmed human fatalities.” We located an Arachnophiles forum and found a very similar looking Centipede identified as Alipes sp. and containing this information: “Adult female, around 4” long. I think this can be a Alipes grandidieri (possibly a A. g. integer) but I am not sure. Very cool species however! They can make a ratteling/hissing sound with their terminal legs almost like a rattle snake. This girl hissed at me twice when I poked her to get out in her new home.” The German language Fatal Technology website has a similar photo, but we do not read German and we do not recognize any words that look like the country where it might have originated. The species is called the Flag Tailed Centipede on Flickr, but again, no country of origin. Exotic Pets indicates: “The Fan Tailed, also known as Flag Tailed Centipede inhabits areas of Africa like Tanzania and Uganda.” We hit the jackpot with the Exotic Pet Shop care sheet that had this information: “The Flag tail centipede is a five inch long slate grey species with red or yellow legs, the last pair of legs are modified with flag – like appendages that as yet have an unknown purpose, and they are a semi communal species that has the ability to hiss when threatened. Unlike most other centipede species it is not as aggressive, but it still has a powerful bite. They hail from forest regions in Western Africa where they can be found under logs and behind bark during the day, emerging at night to hunt for anything small enough to overpower, including spiders, scorpions and other centipedes. Females guard the eggs until they hatch, at which point the young are independent and disperse immediately. The females keep the eggs clean and free from mould during the incubation and will not feed themselves until the eggs hatch.”
Thank you so much for getting back to me, so cool! Did you see the caterpillar I sent you a few days ago, same e-mail address?
We were away from the office when this email arrived and we have not even put a dent in all the requests that arrived during our absence.
Letter 4 – Giant Centipede from Australia: Rhysida nuda
Location: Northern Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
December 11, 2014 4:03 am
I have found this bug walking around my carpet from my laundry or bedroom… It’s sort of dark brownish in colour, it’s about 2.5 -3 inches… Has a roundish head… for the life of me I can’t narrow down what it is.
This is indeed a Giant Centipede in the order Scolopendromorpha, but we are uncertain of the species. According to the Queensland Museum site: “Centipedes are fast-moving predators and are capable of giving a nasty bite from their poison claws. Centipedes have just one pair of legs per body segment. Curiously, all adult centipedes have an odd number of leg pairs.”
Letter 5 – Giant Centipede from Australia, we believe
Subject: What’s this centipede and its scientific name?
Location: Melbourne Australia
February 13, 2016 8:41 am
Hello just would like to know what type of centipede it is and what’s it’s exsact scientific name. I’m pretty die it’s a tiger centipede but there’s so many species. Pls help! Thank you
We are unable to provide you with conclusive information you are requesting regarding the exact scientific name for your Centipede. We wish you had provided information on its size. It appears to be crawling up a paper shredder, which would make it a very large Centipede indeed. This is a Bark Centipede or Tropical Centipede in the Order Scolopendromorpha. According to the Queensland Museum: “The centipede’s poison claws are a modified pair of legs – the first pair, right under the head. The long end-legs are often spiny and some centipedes brandish them when threatened, but they cannot bite or sting. Most bites are from one order of centipedes, the Giant Centipedes (Scolopendromorpha). These centipedes are the large, scary types usually found under rocks and logs, but sometimes wander into our houses. Bites cause minor to severe pain.” We believe this might be the Giant Centipede, Ethmostigmus rubripes. According to The Australian Museum: “This is the largest native Australian centipede and is a member of the scolopendrid family.” The site also states: “The Giant Centipede ranges in colour from dark blue-green-brown to orange-yelllow. It has black bands along the body and yellow legs and antenna. The body is long and flatterned with 25 or 27 body segments and 21 or 23 pairs of legs. The first pair of legs behind the head are modified claws which curve around its head and can deliver venom into its prey. The venom is toxic to both mammals and insects, but does not appear to be strong enough to kill large animals quickly.”
Letter 6 – Curious World of Bugs at Comic-Con
Media Inquiry about your book
November 17, 2010 2:19 am
I’m a fan of your site–years ago you helped me identify a house centipede–and I heard about your book while I was at Comic-Con this year. I write for Wired.com’s GeekDad blog, and I wondered if there’s any chance I could get a review copy of your book to write up on the site.
Signature: Jonathan Liu
How nice to hear we were helpful in the past and that you are still a fan. Thanks for the mention of The Curious World of Bugs already on Wired.com. I will contact my publicist with your request.
Letter 7 – Dead Red Headed Centipede
Red Headed Centipede ?
Location: Possum Kingdom Lake, Texas. Eastern Shore
May 15, 2011 10:06 pm
Hi Guys ~
I Love Your Site ! Ive used it several times to identify friend or foe… and You are always my first stop for instant answers.
I was working at Possum Kingdom Lake in Texas… 2 hours west of Dallas the first of May 2011. I found this guy upside down and already deceased on the back porch… At first I though it was a Rattlesnake Rattle… because He was upside down… After reading Your site.. I do believe this is a Red Headed Centipede.. slightly discolored because he was in the Sun for probably weeks before I found him….
From My Ring finger to My Wrist is 4 and 3/4 inches…
I Hope You enjoy these Photos, and I Hope I’m right ~ Giant redheaded centipede, Order: Scolopendromorpha, Family: Scolopendridae, Genus and species: Scolopendra heros Girard. ……………… ONE MEAN BUG !!!!
Thanks for all You Do !
Ok… He is really 5 inches long.. cause His “stingers” go past my
wrist ~ I didn’t count his antennae
Thanks for the compliment. We agree 100% with your identification of the Red Headed Centipede. Since they grow to nearly double the size of the individual you found, they are quite impressive and formidable creatures.
Letter 8 – Desert Centipede
Scolopendra h. arizonensis?
My roommate found this beauty digging a garden in the neighbors yard in Gisela, AZ. It is aprox. 9-10 inches long. None of us want to get close enough to measure it accurately. We decided to house it in a 20 gallon aquarium for a little while and observe it, take pictures, video etc… and then release it on the opposite side of the Tonto Creek from our house, just to be safe. We can find a few crickets about to feed it, but we do have lots of scorpions, a nest of them actual, on the property, will it eat scorpions? or will the scorpion kill it. My roommate is a vegetarian/Buddhist so he won’t let me fed it any mammals such as mice or lizards, or amphibians, which we also have running about. But he is O.K. with feeding it scorpions and other insects I can find. I tried stink beetles but the centipede didn’t seem to like those. Also, did we identify it correctly? Luv your website, really cool! Thanks,
We are certain this is Scolopendra heros, but we are not sure how the subspecies are identified. One color variant of this species is called the Giant Redheaded Centipede, but your specimen is one of the black headed ones. The primary food of these Desert Centipedes consists of small arthropods, so crickets should work nicely. We are not sure who would eat whom in a centipede/scorpion match.
Letter 9 – Desert Centipede
Subject: Unknown bug
Location: Cabazon, ca
February 6, 2015 3:42 am
I’m house hunting and have found this bug in the bathroom while viewing. Wondering what type of bug? And if it is harmful? I have small children, will this bug continue to go inside the house with us living inside? Or did it only go because the home is vacant? Thank you
Signature: To anna
This is a Tropical Centipede in the order Scolopendromorpha. We believe it is Scolopendra polymorpha which is pictured on BugGuide. Your individual looks young, as they grow to about 4 inches in length. Though Tropical Centipedes often enter homes, they are not a group that is generally found indoors. Tropical Centipedes are venomous, and the bite is reported to be quite painful, but unless there is an allergic reaction, the bite is not deadly, though some Tropical Centipedes from tropical areas are considered more dangerous. Individuals from Texas and Oklahoma, Scolopendra heros, are reported to grow up to 8 inches in length.
Letter 10 – Fanmail
Subject: Just Saying Thank You!
April 29, 2013 12:02 pm
I found your website back in 2008/2009 and have been revisiting it pretty often ever since. I have never had anything that I wanted identified, a few times I did have a question but I was able to find it myself by looking through the archives first. I really enjoy reading it just for fun. I am not all that very interested in bugs really but I just really like this site here. Thank you for making it such fun to browse through! I always come here first whenever I want to know something about bugs. Today I discovered centipedes in my garden and I was worried they were bad. I looked around and discovered that there are quite a few different kinds of centipedes!
Thank you for the sweet message. We love getting fanmail. It really made our day. We try to make the site entertaining and fun. Though we strive for accuracy with identifications, we are more generalists that are attempting to promote an appreciation of the lower beasts in an effort to help folks understand the interconnectivity of all life forms on this fragile planet. We are illustrating this posting with a photo from our archives of the much maligned and misunderstood House Centipede, a beneficial predator that will keep the house rid of other unwanted creatures like cockroaches.
Letter 11 – Giant Desert Centipede from Arizona
Can you identify this bug?
We see them in SE Arizona. ~ 7-9" Long. Thank you,
What a gorgeous Centipede. This is probably a subspecies of Scolopendra heros, the Giant Red Headed Centipede. BugGuide also has one photo of this color variation, which might be considered a separate subspecies or just a color variation. Thanks for sending us your wonderful image. We wish the head was in the shot.
Letter 12 – Giant Red Headed Centipede
I was recently at a home at Lake Travis 30 minutes north of Austin, Texas, when I came across this awesome insect. I have never seen anything like this before especially out in the open. I was wondering what you call this type of insect, if it was native to central Texas, and it if is harmful. Thanks,
First off, Centipedes are not insects as they have more than 6 legs. That is just the most obvious difference. Your centipede is a Giant Red Headed Centipede, Scolopendra heros. Though your photo shows the classic color variation of this species, there are many other color forms depicted on BugGuide. Like other centipedes, the Giant Red Headed Centipede does have a venomous bite, and the bite is reported to be quite painful. That said, it is not an aggressive species, unless you are small enough to be food. Food can consist of small vertibrates including reptiles, amphibians and rodents. We do not consider this to be a harmful species, but it is a formidible predator that will bite a person who disturbs it.