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Centipede: Basic Information, Relationship with Humans & 9 Common Species

Centipede isolated on the white.
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Basic information about centipede

Centipede is a combination of two Latin words; ‘centi-‘ which means ‘hundred’ and ‘pedis’ which means ‘foot.’ It is an arthropod from class Chilopoda. Centipedes have an elongated body with many segments and each body segment containing a pair of legs. These creatures are considered to be very venomous. The centipede venom has some paralyzing enzymes. These creatures along with millipedes, easily characterized by so many legs that move in a wave like symmetry. The number of legs that centipede has ranged from over 30 to nearly 360. The number of pair of legs is always an odd number. Hence, no single creature has exactly 100 legs thus, making it misleading centipede name.

From the modified first appendage they have a couple of venom claws which are also known as forcipes; this characteristic unifies all members in this group. Centipedes prefer to be carnivorous, and their length can vary from a few millimeters to be approximately 12 inches. They are found in a wide variety of habitats and have a color tone that mixes red and brown. The subterranean and cave-dwelling species of centipedes might have some pigmentation while many of the tropical centipede species have bright colors. However, some parthenogenetic centipedes are also known to science.

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Approximately 8000 species of centipedes are considered existing around the globe. Out of this number, some 3000 have been defined and described. Most of the centipedes are simplistic in their body structure while others exhibit highly advanced physical traits. Craterostigmomorpha centipedes placed in between the first anamorphic centipedes and the different Epimorpha.  Centipedes do have a vast geographical range, and they have also found outside the Arctic Circle. There are located in a variety of terrestrial habitats that range from deserts to tropical rainforests. Throughout these habitats, these many-legged creatures prefer a moist microhabitat because they do not have the waxy cuticle that all insects have, and because of this, they lose much water.

Centipedes deal with their water loss using different techniques, and tactics like some species have fewer pores while others tend to lose less water than their counterparts. Hence, they are found in leaf litters soil, dead wood, under the ground as well as within the logs. Centipedes fall under the category of largest predators belonging to the group of terrestrial invertebrates. They heavily contribute predatory biomass of the invertebrates within the terrestrial ecosystems. Only one of their species is known to be amphibious in nature. This species is known to prey on other amphibious and aquatic invertebrates. Centipedes are very much similar to their cousins, millipedes. However, they both are identifiable easily from one another.

1. Appearance & size

Centipedes, equipped with a flat head that is round that has a couple of antennae. They also have a pair of mandibles that are elongated and four maxillae. The first two maxillae form the lower part of the lip and also have short palps. These maxillipeds or limbs end up in sharp claws and also include venomous glands that assist the creature in killing or paralyzing its prey. Many of the species do not have any eyes and are only equipped with the capability of differentiating between light and dark. A variable number of ocelli that are clustered together actually function as it eye compound, which can discern light and dark. They do not have any actual vision, and in some species, the first pair of legs near the head works similar to a sensory organ just like its antennae. However, unlike the antennae of most other insects or invertebrates, the antennae of centipedes are pointed in the backward direction. They have the tendency to grow up to 8 inches in length, and giant red-headed centipedes are among the largest of the centipedes, they are mostly found in North American regions and have the tendency to bite humans.

2. Diet, behavior & habits

Predominantly, the centipedes are generalists when they prey; this essentially means that they are adapted to eat different food based on its availability. According to the researchers, upon the examination of the gut of a centipede, different content was found, and it suggested that plant matter not be the essential part of their diet, even though, centipedes have been observed to eat different vegetables when they were starving during a variety of lab experiments. Centipede is primarily nocturnal, and they have the ability feed on vertebrates as well as invertebrates. Centipedes, observed while eating different reptiles, amphibians, birds, small mammals, and bats. They also have many predators that range from larger birds, mongooses, salamanders, snakes, beetles, mice and other larger insects. They live in different habitats that range from deserts to tropical rain forests. They also prefer the wet places within the households where immature house centipedes are very common.

3. Reproduction and life cycle

The reproduction process of adult centipedes does not involve in the form of copulation. Males just deposit a spermatophore which is taken up by the females. In some of the species, this spermatophore deposited on the web, and the male performs a courtship dance to attract a female to surround its sperm. In all other cases, the males just leave their spermatophore out in the open for the females to find it. The process of egg laying occurs during the time of spring and summer. The centipedes of some species lay their eggs singly within the holes of the soil. The number of the eggs usually varies from 10 to 50. The development time of the embryo varies a lot, and it may take anywhere between a month to a few months until the newly hatched centipede is witnessed. The development time to reproductive period varies from one centipede species to another.

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Top 10 interesting centipede facts

For the most, centipedes are considered to be a hideous creature that freakishly moves around using its so many legs. However, following are the ten most interesting facts about these hundred-legged creatures that you might never think of,

  • Centipedes are the only members of arthropod family equipped with venomous claws used for predatory purposes.
  • All Centipedes have an odd number of legs, and even though their name means that they are a hundred-legged creature, they have significantly lower number of legs.
  • Each segment of their body has one pair of legs.
  • All species of centipedes are predators.
  • These creatures have the ability to live for several years which range from 2 to 5 years.
  • Centipedes are capable of regenerating their lost legs if any.
  • A mother centipede takes care of her eggs and remains with them until they hatch.
  • Excluding the soil centipedes, these critters are built for speed and can move very fast.
  • Some of these species including the stone centipede and house centipede have the ability to increase their pair of legs as they grow.
  • Centipedes are extremely vulnerable when it comes to dehydration because they do not have waxy cuticle to prevent the loss of water from their bodies.

Relationship with humans

Because centipedes found in a variety of habitats, they are bound to cross their paths with people. Because of their venomous nature, they are hazardous to the humans, but they also have some uses. Let’s look at some of the hazards and uses of these invertebrate predators.

1. Uses

Though centipedes are not considered to be a food item in most of the cultures, in China, people consume them in a variety of manners. They are usually grilled, skewered or deep fried for this purpose. They are often on street vendors’ stalls in the cities of Beijing, Wangfujing and Donghuamen.  In addition to China; people in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia place large centipedes in liquor for certain period which is accustomed to traditional Chinese medicine, and people believe that the centipede has some medical properties that are reinvigorating and the liquor with centipede is considered as a special drink. These are non-venomous centipedes.

2. Hazards to humans

Some of the species of centipedes are hazardous in nature because of the poisonous venom they contain in their bite. Though a bite to an adult human is usually very painful, it may also cause severe chills, weakness, fever and swelling. However, it is highly unlikely to be fatal. These bites can be extremely dangerous for the kids and people with bee-sting allergies. A venomous bite of large-sized centipedes equipped with inducing anaphylactic shock in these people. On the other hand, the smaller centipede does not have the capability to pierce through the human skin. Some of the species are wood-eating centipedes, and they destroy all the wood made items.

Common centipede species

Centipedes, distributed in over 8000 species across the world, and the researchers describe only 3000 of them. Therefore, a lot about centipedes is still unknown to man. We have enlisted the common types of centipedes as follows,

1. Feather-tail centipede

Feather-tail centipedes are found in Eastern Africa and are characterized by their back legs turned into feather-like structures. On the first encounter, they have the ability to take flight. However, this is not the case; they use these feathers to warn the predators about their venomous presence.

2. Blue ring centipede

These centipedes have the potential to grow gigantic and come in exquisite coloration. This greenish-blue centipede has a unique coloring that is not common in any other species. It prefers to live in the desert environment as well as the Savannah. It prefers to bury itself under the soil, moves around very quickly and is very venomous as well.

3. Stone sentipede

This animal is also known with a name stone-dweller and has a tendency to grow up to one and three-quarters of an inch in size. These centipedes have 15 pairs of legs which are short in size. They do not have good eyesight and relies on touch to detect its prey. They also have the ability to throw drops of adhesive organic material using their legs when they are to protect themselves from different threats. These drops also serve as sticky traps for the centipedes to capture their prey.

4. Aquatic centipede

Aquatic centipede is an amphibious centipede, the first and only one of its kind. This large-sized creeper is comfortable both on land as well as in water. It can grow up to a length of 8 inches, and like all other centipedes, it is carnivorous as well as venomous. For the time being it is only found in Southeast Asia.

5. House centipede

Like stone centipedes, the house centipedes also have 15 pairs of legs, but in the case of house centipedes, the legs are longer. The common house centipedes have originated from the Mediterranean and prefer warm climate to feed and grow. They are relatively common household types found across the globe.

6. Peruvian giant yellow-leg centipede

It is also known as Amazonian giant centipede and is among the largest kinds of centipedes. Centipedes can be up to 12 inches in length found in various regions of the Caribbean and South America. The centipede preys on a variety of other small arthropods, amphibians, reptiles and mammals.

7. Giant red-headed centipede

This giant sized centipede is identifiable by its red head and yellow legs with a black colored body. They prefer to live in leaves, logs, and rocks and at times wander into houses near them. They are 8 inches in length and have 21 to 23 pair of legs. They have the tendency to grasp their prey with their legs.

8. Giant Sonoran centipede

It is also known as giant North American centipede and is very closely related to the giant red-headed centipede. It is one of the longest centipedes found in the North American region and grows up to 8 inches in length and even longer in captivity. Sonoran Desert centipede is also a carnivore and subdues its prey with venom.

9. Vietnamese centipede

This species is found in some tropical and subtropical regions around the globe and originates from the Indomalayan region. It is also among the largest centipedes found around the world. Like other species, it is also equipped with venom and prefers to eat anything that it can overcome.

Do centipedes bite?

Because centipedes are predators, they also have highly advanced physical characteristics that allow them to subdue and capture their prey. The front legs of these creepers are its fangs which function like pinchers. These front legs are known as forcipules and enable the centipede to inject a fatal dosage of venom into its prey. These pinchers penetrate the victim’s skin and deliver the venom. Therefore, it is commonly misunderstood as a centipede bite. Centipedes are very reclusive and shy; these creatures only bite when they want something to eat or as an act of self-defense. Whenever you encounter a centipede, you will always experience that it will shy away from you. There will only be a rare case that it starts moving towards you and it happens when they are hungry and looking for food.

Certain large-sized centipedes do pose a serious threat to humans regarding a bite. On the other hand, small-sized counterparts are not even capable of penetrating human skin. The centipedes that are capable of biting the humans but only do so when not handled properly. Humans and the household pets have the tendency to withstand the effects of the poison generally due to the size. Centipede bites do cause minor pains, swelling, redness and numbness at the wound’s site. Centipede bites are very similar to the bee stings, and they cause mild irritations that go away after a few hours. However, if someone is allergic to this venom, then just like a bee sting, a centipede’s bite can initiate a severe allergic reaction causing severe pain and will require medical attention. The allergic person might feel increased heart rate, difficulty in breathing, fever as well as swelling in the throat, discoloration as well as inflammation. For almost all centipede bites, a proper treatment includes home remedies such as cleaning the bite area with soap and water and application of ice.

Centipede control

If you are experiencing centipede infestation around your household, then you may need to adopt some prevent measures and use a centipede treatment plan. Centipede treatments are very useful especially for the households with people who are allergic to the venom they have in their forcipules. For the allergic people, a centipede bite is a very discomforting experience. Temporary centipede control is useful only when you know that there is no heavy infestation around your household. Before you can call the exterminator, perhaps you should try some of the non-chemical treatment listed below, which are very effective when it comes to controlling the centipede population.

1. Reduce moisture problems

Because centipedes prefer wet conditions as they lack the waxy cuticle and tend to get dehydrated, therefore, make sure that you keep your household moisture free so that they do not get the kind of habitat they are looking. You need to repair you water leakages or can also use dehumidifiers.

2. Reduce clutter

You can also reduce the clutter around the house. This clutter becomes the ideal hiding places for these animals. Don’t store your items directly stacking up against the floor or straight on the floor.

3. Reduce food source

Another best way to keep the centipedes away from your household I by reducing the number of other small spiders and insects that prove to be the food basis for these centipedes. When they do not find any food supply, they will not come through here at all.

4. Sealing cracks, holes and gaps

Seal all the cracks or any other gaps around the house within the walls and windows as well as the doors. These gaps and cracks are the ideal hiding spots for the centipedes. Other insects can also use these spots as their hiding places and the centipedes come through here while preying on them.

5. Remove indoor centipedes with a vacuum

Whenever you see a centipede crawling around your house, make sure that you vacuum it and also look for any other centipede as well.


Apart from this, there are other techniques as well that involve the use of chemicals control methods. The insecticides used in the different centipede harborage zones. However, application of chemicals is only made when the centipede infestation is hefty. The basic idea is to limit the conditions that they prefer. If you frequently clean your house and don’t leave any clusters and also limit the food source for these nasty critters, then chances of you experiencing them in your household will become minimal to rare and centipede population levels will be controlled effectively. They are not venomous for the humans because the content of the venom is too limited. However, due to the hideous looks of this creeper, centipedes tend to get some shivers from people. Sometimes the bite of these creatures hurt.

These are the traits good enough for centipede to get some scares from the people. However, the centipedes are very shy creatures and prefer not to get in any contact. They only bite or use their venom when they are hungry and looking for food. They prefer humid areas, so you need to take some preventive actions for those leakages. Otherwise, you are welcoming these pesky critters. They will come to any place where there is lots of humidity and plenty of food supply available. They have the tendency to eat anything that they can overpower. So these are the two primary characteristics they are looking for their habitat. If you are looking for centipede treatment, then make sure that you work on these two areas in particular. Centipedes will not come through your household if they do not have any reason to come there.

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