Are centipedes venomous? Here’s everything you need to know about them

Hyperaxion Oct 1, 2020

Are centipedes poisonous or venomous? How painful is their bite? Are they dangerous to humans? Keep reading and find out.

Centipedes are venomous! Their bite is very painful and releases a substance that is toxic to humans.

Centipede bite symptoms

Usually, the centipede’s bite causes redness, pain, and swelling. In more severe cases, it can cause chills, fever, and even necrosis of the bite site. So, if you see a centipede out there, never try to catch it with your hands.

The severity of the bite depends on some factors, such as the centipede species, the number of bites, and the victim’s sensitivity to the venom.

Only one confirmed death

In the overwhelming majority of cases, nothing serious happens to a person bitten by a centipede and the symptoms disappear after a few hours or days.

There is only one confirmed case of death after a centipede bite in all medical literature: a seven-year-old Filipino girl, bitten on the head by a centipede of the genus Scolopendra.

What is a centipede?

Centipede is an animal that has a long, flat body, divided into several segments (from 15 to 191), each with a pair of legs.

There are about 3,300 species of centipedes described. Its size varies from 3 to 26 centimeters.

But what is most striking about centipedes is their large number of legs. Hence its name: centipede (from Latin centipes, “hundred-footed”).

But do centipedes really have 100 feet?

How many legs does a centipede have?

Contrary to popular belief, centipedes do not have 100 legs.

In fact, the number varies according to the species and the number of segments in the animal’s body.

There are centipedes with 15 and there are centipedes with 191 segments. If each segment has a pair of legs, the number of legs in a centipede can vary from 30 to 382.

What do centipedes eat?

Centipedes are predatory and carnivorous. Their favorite prey are smaller animals: beetle larvae, insects, and earthworms.

Larger species, such as Scolopendra gigantea, on the other hand, hunt lizards, frogs, bats, birds, and mice.

Centipedes move very quickly and do not give their prey much chance. When they find a victim, they use their sharp, pincer-like claws, called forcipules, to inject their venom.

The venom leaves the prey stunned and immobile. After that, centipedes wrap themselves around their prey and, with the support of their jaws, begin to eat them.

Where do centipedes live?

Different species of centipedes are distributed all over the world.

Centipedes live in wet environments. They are usually found under leaves, debris, tree bark, and stones. If the environment is dark and wet, centipedes love it!

They can also be found indoors. In fact, most accidents involving centipedes occur indoors.

They can hide under clothes and bed sheets. Such an encounter can be quite frightening!

But as frightening as they may be, their ecological importance cannot be ignored. As predators, centipedes help regulate the insect population, for example.

Remember that cockroach you found wandering around your house? It is food for centipedes.

Scolopendra subspinipes is poisonous and can be found in Brazil.
Scolopendra subspinipes is venomous and can be found in Brazil.

Difference between centipedes and millipedes and the scientific classification of centipedes

Centipedes are chilopods that belong to the phylum of arthropods.

Let’s explain what that means:

  • Arthropods are invertebrate animals (they have no spine) and have an external skeleton (called an exoskeleton).

Insects, for example, are arthropods. But centipedes are not insects. They are chilopods.

  • Chilopods are animals that belong to the sub-phylum of myriapods, to which millipedes also belong.

Myriapods are small animals that have a large number of legs. They also have an elongated head and trunk.

  • The basic difference between centipedes and millipedes is that millipedes have two pairs of legs in each segment of their body. Whereas centipedes only have one pair of legs. Also, millipedes do not bite.

Types of centipedes

House centipede

Up close, house centipedes, while practically harmless, look scary.
Up close, house centipedes, while practically harmless, look scary.

Known as house centipedes, the centipedes of the species Scutigera Coleoptrata are native to the Mediterranean, but can be found in several regions of the world, with a preference for temperate climates.

Its name is due to the fact that it is usually found indoors. Because of wet conditions, house centipedes prefer to live in bathrooms. They are very agile and are between 1 and 6 centimeters long.

If they feel threatened, they can bite, although these small animals are much less aggressive than the centipedes of the genus Scolopendra.

Giant centipedes

Scolopendra gigantea is the largest centipede species that exists.

Also known as the Peruvian giant centipede, it can be found in tropical forests in northern South America, in countries like Brazil, Peru, and Venezuela.

A centipede of this species can reach up to 30 centimeters in length. The largest ever found was 26 centimeters long!

In addition to being large, these centipedes are quite aggressive, and their venom can cause serious problems for humans.

Centipedes of this species are capable of eating animals such as bats and frogs. In Venezuela, giant centipedes were seen hunting bats on the roofs of caves!

Amazonian giant centipede

The amazonian giant centipede, one of several species of giant centipedes.

Like other centipedes of the genus Scolopendra, the amazonian giant centipede (Scolopendra viridicornis) is known for its aggressiveness and its size.

It is the most common species in Brazil. A centipede of this species can reach more than 10 centimeters in length.

In 1946, a German biologist performed experiments to analyze the behavior of the amazonian giant centipede. To do this, he put centipedes together of mice in an enclosure.

They clung to the mice for about five minutes, during which they delivered several bites, inoculating a large amount of venom.

The researcher noted that, although the bites produced small edema, the venom affected the central nervous system of the mice, which died as a result of respiratory arrest.

What should you do if you were bitten by a centipede?

Although centipede venom is not very toxic to humans, its bite is very painful and can cause discomfort.

In the event of an accident involving centipedes, the best thing to do is to keep the site of the bite as clean as possible and seek medical help.

How to stop centipedes from getting into your house?

To prevent these animals from appearing inside your home, there are a few things you can do:

  • Clean the drains and keep them closed when not in use;
  • Clean and close grease and drain boxes;
  • Keep gardens clean and keep climbing plants out;
  • Avoid using basements or warehouses for storage of old objects;
  • Always seal cracks in walls and pavements – centipedes like to hide in those places;
  • Centipedes like to hide in wet places. Keep the house ventilated and dry.

Related topics:

Centipedes Millipedes


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