Centipedes (Chilopoda)

Centipedes are arthropods that nobody wants in their homes. These animals have the capability of biting you with painful results.  Only one species of centipede in this country is dangerously venomous.  There are some very large centipedes in Asia that have caused human fatalities, but none in the United States.  However, anyone can be allergic to anything, including the bite or sting of an insect or some other arthropod.  Even if they bites or stings aren’t fatal, they can certainly be painful.

There are over two hundred species of centipedes in the western U. S., but most of them are very small and belong to two suborders.  They are the stone centipedes (Lithobiomorpha) and the soil centipedes (Geophilomorpha). Stone centipedes are about an inch long and have 15 pair of legs.  Soil centipedes aren’t much longer and have upwards of 40 pair of legs.  Neither group is capable of biting people.  Both are common in yards and feed on small bugs including some pests, so they can be considered beneficial.  House centipedes (Scutigera coleoptrata) are about an inch long and have 15 pair of very long legs.  They are common almost everywhere and are often found in homes.  They rarely bite and they do feed on such pests as spiders, bed bugs, termites, cockroaches, ants and silverfish.

Three species of Scolopendromorpha centipedes are found in the western states.  The desert centipede (Scolopendra polymorpha) is most common throughout the west with the exception of Washington. It is about three or four inches long.

All of the Scolopendra have painful bites but they are not dangerous.

Centipedes are usually found in areas of high moisture such as loose bark, in rotting logs, under stones, boards, railroad ties, trash, piles of leaves and grass clippings and similar areas.  They are nocturnal or active at night and hide by day in the earth, wandering forth by night to hunt. They occasionally invade structures and will feed on cockroaches, cricket, spiders, etc. Although they may be found anywhere in a building, including beds, the usual places are damp basements, bathrooms, and any crawl space under the home or building.

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