Centipedes are not the most harmful pests to live nearby humans, but surely they are one of the nastiest and scariest ones. There are many reasons to be scared of them, including their high speed of movement, weird appearance and a chance to get bitten. How dangerous is a centipede bite? That is why quite often the elimination of centipedes turns into real hell for many people. We’re going to bust the myths surrounding the centipedes on the grounds of proven scientific data.
First, we’ll give you answers to the most common questions, such as “what does a centipede look like and where do they live?” Then we’ll find out whether the centipedes are poisonous and whether they bite. We’ll learn how many cases of centipede bites there were in the USA and what they ended with as well as what you should do in case you get bitten. But first let’s take a closer look at these disgusting creatures.
We’re surrounded by thousands of nasty centipedes. There are both the ordinary house centipedes and some quite dangerous monsters, such as an almost a foot-long giant scolopendra among them. Imagine yourself taking a bubble bath with a glass of wine and then this monstrous centipede appears out of nowhere!
We believe that everyone has seen a centipede close enough at least once. First people start panicking, screaming and run away in terror. They ask themselves the same questions: “What is this? How to get rid of this? Will it bite me?” Later some more sensible and serious questions come up. We’ve prepared the answers to them in order to clear the black spots in your understanding of eliminating these creatures. We have consulted the experienced and knowledgeable scientists of the Entomology Department of Pennsylvania.
Let’s first sat that we can’t call them insects as scientifically both the centipedes and the insects are arthropods, but this is the only thing they have in common. The centipedes constitute a class of centipedes in the tracheal subtype. Most often you can encounter them in some dark and damp places outside, for instance, in a pile of leaves, under bark or stones, in the plant beds and mulch.
It’s not difficult to recognize these aliens. They only crawl at night or when it’s completely dark. The centipedes’ bodies are extremely mobile and clearly segmented: each segment has a pair of legs. The length of the legs increases as they get closer to the tail. You would ask why and we’ll reply that this helps the creature not to trip over itself and move quickly. Two venomous claws which are often mistaken for jaws are located on their head. There occur certain color variations, as usually they are grey with red, brown or pink, but some are striped yellow.
These species appeared in the USA in the middle of the 19th century and were brought from the Mediterranean region. They infested the households all over the place. Their bodies have grayish-yellow stripes, though brown prevails occasionally. Home centipedes can be scarcely called giants as they rarely grow longer than 2 inches.
Where do centipedes live?
Where can you encounter a regular centipede? Theoretically, it can fall on your face at night or crawl into the shower when you arrange home spa procedures. However, more often the centipedes settle in the warm and damp basements, dens and attics. They certainly love bathrooms and greenhouses and some remote areas. The specialists of the Department of Entomology, Pennsylvania recommend checking under the cement plates and inside any cracks, the hollow walls, in sewage and boxes with old things. It’s far easier to track a centipede at night as they are most active at that time.
How many legs does a centipede have?
Although the Latin prefix centi- means “a hundred”, the species spread in the USA have 30-354 legs. The funny rule is that the centipedes always have an odd number of pairs of legs (they have 5, 7, 9, 11, 13 or 15 pairs of legs). The house centipedes’ legs appear as they grow and as a rule they have 15 pairs of them. Surprisingly, the last pair of an adult female is the longest one, as it is twice as long as the insect’s body. Should you see a centipede with less than 30 legs, be aware that it is not grown up yet.
Are centipedes poisonous? The specialists of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension helped us deal with this controversial issue. According to them, the centipedes aren’t venomous but many types have venomous glands. The arthropods need it to paralyze the victim and consume it. The toxins also protect the centipedes from becoming someone’s lunch, as the substance exuded has an unpleasant odor which drives the predators far away.
More precisely, it is the insects and slugs which hunt the centipedes and millipedes and not the humans that should be afraid of the toxic composition of a centipede’s repelling liquid. Nevertheless, they are likely to bite you if you encounter them. Still, the Georgian scientists calm down everyone who is worried and say that the “Millipedes and centipedes do not carry diseases that affect people, animals or plants”. They aren’t mosquitoes among which you can come across one infected with malaria, centipedes can’t do much harm to humans. Let’s elaborate with the help of particular examples.
Many of these creatures have venomous glands on their sides. That’s why it’s not advisable to touch the millipedes with bare hands. Take care of your skin as their “protective spray” is rather pungent and blisters may appear on your hands. You shouldn’t rub the eyes after touching this creature either. Also, remember to wash your hands thoroughly.
As a rule, all the centipedes have venomous glands behind the head. Among them there are some of the harmless types which inhabit the soil as well as the house centipedes which you can encounter at home.
The ones you should be afraid of are the largest centipedes (8-20 cm long), scolopendras. This is the centipede type that people should avoid. There have been several cases of humans getting bitten by them. The Wilderness Medical Society Wilderness Medical Society informs us that the scolopendra venom is similar to that of the scorpions! We’ll look into more details of that below.
We’ll calm you down at once and state that millipedes don’t bite while centipedes do.
However, don’t be afraid of consequences of a house centipede bite: although these centipedes don’t raise anything but disgust, they barely bite people. As for the animals, centipedes are likely to bite them, and the smaller the animal is, the harder it will take the bite. Still, this happens extremely rarely.
Now let’s get into more details regarding the centipedes that bite the most. There were several cases of scolopendra bites in the US.
Are you afraid yet? Don’t be! The funniest thing is that 4 cases out of 5 involve the same person. A certain 36 years-old S.S was first bitten by a giant desert centipede, then by a 20-cm Scolopendra subspinipes while he was handling it for a television interview, then it bit him again within two days. For the last, fourth time he was bitten by a 10-cm while preparing for a class. We can therefore conclude that this scolopendra fan is likely an entomologist as he had an interview taken while handling it.
That’s why us, ordinary mortals, have nothing to fear:) The more so, the scientists claim that the scolopendras live presumably in the warm temperatures and tropical climate. In the United States they most often live in the Southern States, such as California, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Kansas, Georgia, and Hawaii. The Northerners have nothing to fear at all unless they go on a vacation to the South. Beware in that case!
Should you nevertheless get bitten by a scolopendra, be ready for the following consequences (we’ll warn you, they are not lethal). The bites can be extremely painful and they last long time (1-2 days) to heal. The main symptoms which can be revealed right after the bite are sharp and longing pain, it can range from being insignificant to being a “10” at a 1-10 pain scale. You may also get fever, feel extreme fatigue, the skin is likely to be extremely sensitive in the area of the bite, swelling and redness appears and later you can lose sensitivity and become numb.
Scolopendras are somehow similar to the wasps which don’t leave the sting in the wound and can sting a person several times in a row. Often this creature continues to pierce the human skin and thus envenoming you further even when detected. Usually the scolopendras bite you when you’re having a rest in your bed, but they can also crawl in the clothes and bite you when you get dressed.
The good news is that the scolopendra bites aren’t lethal. The Wilderness Medical Society scientists confirm this as ““No fatality due to a centipede sting has ever been reported in the United States”, although they still mention a single fatal bite case of a young Filipino girl. Being careful thus won’t do you harm. They also explain that “the contents of almost 1000 venom glands would be required for a fatal sting in an average adult” which doesn’t seem possible for any city dwellers.
Helpful tip: if you’re been bitten by a scolopendra, find a hot water bottle in the house, fill it with moderately hot water (not hotter than 113ºF) and put it over the place of bit. This simple measure is supposed to relieve the pain. The scientists have yet to explain this phenomenon, and they suspect that the possible reason for it is that some of the scolopendra venom components aren’t heat-resistance. Your second type of treatment is some ice and pain killers.
Don’t worry about your papers, furniture and other objects. Centipedes aren’t moths or silverfish. They aren’t interested in your belongings. On the other hand, some millipedes can make your house smell unpleasantly as “some species can secrete a foul-smelling fluid” which is highly unlikely, as you have to have too many of these arthropods at home so that you could feel this smell. Moreover, as the millipedes are herbivore scavengers, they might be interested in rotting wood, so we recommend you to check regularly whether it is too damp in your attics and basements and whether the millipedes will be able to feast on anything there.
We hope we haven’t scared you too much. So in order to compliment our antagonists in the end of the review, we would like to tell you how centipedes are useful. They actively destroy pests, as their diet includes bugs, flies, cockroaches, termites and even spiders. Sometimes the centipedes even guard your place from even more harmful creatures. That is why you’d better live in peace with them unless you fear them – or read our article about how to get rid of centipedes