There are more than 3,000 types of centipedes identified in the world. Chances are you’ve already come across many in your lifetime. When you do, you might discover that this bug’s name is a misnomer.
No one centipede species has precisely one hundred legs. Centipedes will always have an odd number of leg pairs. In fact, a female’s final pair of legs will be double the length of any others.
These amazing arthropods are divided into four orders. These are the Scutigeromorpha, Scolopendromorpha, Lithobiomorpha, and Geophilomorpha.
Entomologists define each order by leg segments and the number of leg pairs on the insect. Species to species, there are varying colors, shapes, and numbers of legs.
The list below will describe twelve species, some common and some exceptionally unique. We’ll go through each species’ differences, behaviors, and more. We even have some FAQs reserved, so read on!
1. House Centipede (Scutigera coleoptrata)
Most readers have already come across these little guys in their houses before. The house centipedes are Mediterranean in origin. Today, they’ve adapted to living in our homes for centuries.
These nocturnal creatures prefer staying in dark, damp spaces. That’s why you often see them spending the day in drains and bathroom walls. During the day, you’re only likely to see them as they scurry from shelter to shelter.
If you try to catch them, house centipedes can detach any of their 15 pairs of legs in an escape attempt. The legs are not for hunting, however.
House centipedes stun their prey through a venom released from their forcipules. These forcipules are their front pincers. These pincers are actually just legs but with modifications.
You want to think twice before calling the exterminator for these perceived pests. Their bites are harmless to humans, leaving a bite reminiscent of a mosquito.
Having a house centipede around is a form of pest control. That’s because they primarily eat roaches, spiders, and moths.
2. Common Desert Centipede (Scolopendra polymorpha)
The common desert centipede is native to the southwestern United States. It’s also commonly known as the Sonoran desert centipede.
In desert climates, these bugs seek an adequate amount of moisture. This is why they tend to burrow under rocks or in rotting logs.
This species displays a unique nesting behavior. According to entomologists, they adapted this behavior due to their rotting environments.
Mothers coil around their eggs after laying them. This effectively cuts the eggs off from the outside environment. It’s believed this prevents them from becoming contaminated with bacteria.
A common desert centipede’s bite will sting but is not life-threatening to humans.
In fact, the species’ venom may prove beneficial in medicine. Bentham Science completed a study revealing microbial properties in their venom. These properties are found to be capable of fighting infectious bacteria.
3. Giant Desert Centipede (Scolopendra heros)
The giant desert centipede is North America’s largest centipede. They typically measure 6.5 inches (16.5 cm) but have grown over 8 inches (20.3 cm) in the wild.
Their brightly colored bodies carry either 21 or 23 pairs of legs. Their bright coloring is an evolved defense mechanism. Interestingly, this trait is meant to ward off predators like owls and raptors.
The giant desert centipede can take down even bigger prey with its large frame. It usually feeds on any small insects it comes across. This species can also take down small vertebrates like rodents and reptiles.
The bite from a giant desert centipede is excruciating. It’s even comparable to one from a bullet ant. Interestingly, one bite is enough to incapacitate smaller prey.
4. Common Cryptops (Cryptops hortensis)
Common cryptops are a reddish brown species native to mild European climates. The species is marked by 21 pairs of legs and their longer back legs pointing in the opposite direction.
This species inhabits woodlands underneath stones and logs.
Common cryptops lack the cuticle to preserve moisture commonly found in other bugs. Without a damp environment, this bug will dry out and die. For this reason, they tend to favor damp, rotting woodland structures.
5. Hoffman’s Dwarf Centipede (Nannarrup hofmani)
The smallest centipede in the world went unidentified for a long time. It wasn’t until 2002 in Central Park that the species was first identified.
This species was named after Dr. Hoffman, who first discovered them. He speculates they’re an exotic species that showed up in potting soil from Asia.
The tiny Hoffman’s dwarf only measures 0.4 inches (1 cm) in length. But on that small frame, there are 41 pairs of legs.
The odds of such a small species surviving in Manhattan are minuscule. But the Hoffman dwarfs are voracious eaters. They’re very capable of eating whatever they can wrap their tiny jaws around.
6. Eastern Red Centipede (Scolopocryptops sexspinosus)
The eastern red centipede is native to the woodlands of North America. Like other species, they prefer areas with a lot of moisture. The ideal homes for these creatures are leaf piles and underneath rocks.
These centipedes have many subspecies. The largest of them have the power to take down small vertebrates with their bite.
Every eastern red has a longer set of legs at the end of its body. These legs grab and control prey post-bite. Such behavior makes them one of the most effective feeders of the its species.
7. Western Fire Centipede (Scolopocryptops gracilis)
Part of the fire centipede group is named for its bright red body and burning venom. This species is native to California and parts of the western United States.
The Scolopocryptops portion of their name means they are a species of bark centipede. They burrow in tree bark during the day, waiting for rain or nightfall to go hunting.
The bite from any species of fire centipede is going to hurt. Despite this, there are no recorded deaths from a fire centipede bite.
8. Amazonian Giant Centipede (Scolopendra gigantea)
The Amazonian giant centipede is native to the rainforests of South America. More importantly, it’s known as the largest species in the world. A fully grown Amazonian giant grows over 12 inches (30.5 cm) in length.
You can consider this species as the apex predator of all centipedes. Its bite is packed with venom capable of taking down larger vertebrates. It is also the only species to cause a confirmed human death.
Amazonian giants prey on frogs, lizards, and insects throughout the rainforest. It is the only species capable of hunting bats.
Their hunting strategy involves hanging from cave ceilings. Then, they patiently wait to trap unsuspecting bats in their legs.
Amazonian giants are slow-moving bugs. They’re unlike most centipedes capable of scurrying around to avoid detection. With only 21 to 23 pairs of legs for such a long body, this species can only lumber around forest floors and trees.
9. Pacific Giant Centipede (Scolopendra subspinipes)
Pacific giants make their homes in the tropical climates of East Asia. They are one of three species found in Hawaii and have many color variants. It’s sometimes called the Chinese red-headed or jungle centipede.
Known to be large predators, Pacific giant centipedes typically measure 7 to 8 inches (17.8 to 20.3 cm). Aside from size, they’re efficient predators, too!
When hunting a potential meal, Pacific giants aim to sink their rear legs into their prey. Then, they coil around them and bite them repeatedly, depositing venom every time.
10. Aquatic Centipede (Scolopendra cataracta)
It took until 2001 for aquatic centipedes to first be discovered. They were first documented outside of Thailand. Nowadays, they’re found all across Southeast Asia.
Aquatic centipedes can grow to 7 inches (17.8 cm) in length and are as comfortable swimming as they are on land. The evolution makes sense given their inability to retain moisture. No other species is as capable a swimmer as the aquatic centipede.
The species has fewer natural predators because of this unique escape method. Alongside their predatory eating habits, these bugs are capable of dominating an ecosystem.
11. Minor Blueleg Centipede (Rhysidia longipes)
The minor blue leg centipede is the only species known to be kept as a pet. This is a subspecies of the blue leg centipede, and its smaller size makes it more preferable to care for.
Minor blue legs don’t have different behaviors or temperaments than other centipedes. As such, no one is quite sure why these became popular pets. The rich blue colors are pleasant to look at, but it appears like most other creepy crawlers.
12. Feather-tailed Centipede (Alipes grandidieri)
Feather-tailed centipedes are a genus that lives across Eastern Africa. Alipes signifies a wing-leg, a close description of their back legs.
While they cannot fly, their back legs form a thin, wing-like appendage. When threatened, they flap these “wings” in a way that creates a hissing. This sound warns the potential predator of its venomousness.
In the desert, there aren’t many places to escape to. That’s why the feather-tailed centipede evolved to detach its back legs when fleeing. Despite this, the legs will continue to flap and hiss.
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What is the largest centipede on record?
The Amazonian giant centipede is the largest species found in the world. The largest one on record exceeds 10 inches (25.4 cm). However, people have reported sightings over 12 inches (30.5 cm).
It’s unlikely to encounter a giant centipede outside damp, humid climates. This is because they can’t naturally retain moisture.
Can centipedes climb up onto beds?
Unfortunately, yes, centipedes can climb up onto beds. Their many pairs of legs can easily carry their light frame up walls and posts. On the bright side, you’re only likely to encounter a house centipede inside your home. Compared to other species, their bite is among the least threatening.
This doesn’t mean centipedes will always climb up onto your bed. They have very little reason to do so. There is no food source for house centipedes in your bed, and they will not bite without threat. Centipedes mainly emerge at night in pursuit of smaller insects to snack on.
What is the deadliest centipede?
Any species of giant centipede is likely to be the most dangerous in the area. They’re the only species whose venom caused human deaths.
Sustaining a bite that will kill you is extremely unlikely. Expect the bite to cause an incredible stinging and burning sensation. The worst it can do is ruin your day and warrant a trip to the doctor.
One honorable mention is the fire centipedes. Their slight stature limits the damage they can do. However, a bite from one is capable of taking down small vertebrates.
How do you tell if it is a centipede or a millipede?
The prefixes centi- and milli- are slight misnomers for either species. Centipedes don’t have 100 legs, and millipedes don’t have 1000. Entomologists estimate there are 7,000 species of centipedes. As for millipedes, there exist over 80,000 species in the world.
The legs are the main difference between the two species. Centipedes have one pair of legs for each body segment. On the other hand, millipedes have two pairs per segment.
Another difference lies in what they consume. Centipedes are predators, seeking out prey to take down with their venom. Millipedes are much gentler, with no poisonous bite. They instead scavenge on decaying plant matter.
How do I safely remove centipedes from my house?
Centipedes are essential pest control around your house. They mainly feast on roaches, mosquitos, and spiders. Still, they can be unwelcome guests inside your home.
One method involves strong essential oils like peppermint and lavender. These are effective natural deterrents for centipedes. Cracks, drains, and door jams are all popular entrances for centipedes. Spray these areas with an oil & water dilution, and it’ll keep all the insects out.
Nonetheless, centipedes are vital predators in their ecosystem. Their role involves managing populations of small insects and invertebrates.
That’s why care is required when controlling any species of pest. Killing all the centipedes could instead leave you with a bigger pest problem in the house.