Common Centipedes in Arizona

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Did you know that there are thought to be over 8,000 varieties of centipedes worldwide? While most of them range from 4-152 mm, there are some real giants out there – the largest species is the Peruvian giant centipede, which can grow to be up to two and a half feet long! Luckily we don’t have anything that big in Arizona, but our state is home to three species that are commonly found in our homes and property – the house centipede (Scutigera coleoptrata), the common desert centipede (Scolopendra polymorpha) and the giant desert centipede (Scolopendra heros).

Most centipedes have a few common characteristics. Unlike millipedes, centipedes have only one pair of legs per segment, while millipedes can have two to four pairs per segment. In spite of their name (centipede means “100 legs”), the number of legs they have varies by species from around 20 to over 300.

Centipedes are nocturnal animals, and are rarely seen during the day. They do all their hunting at night, and typically hide out in damp, dark places during the daylight hours. You may see them in window wells, under logs or rocks, or hiding in damp mulch along the foundation of your house. Indoors, centipedes prefer dark and damp areas. They lay their eggs in dam and secluded places, and centipedes are devoted mothers – they curl up around their eggs and groom them until they hatch to keep them free of mold and bacteria.

Centipedes are predatory insects that eat other insects, or, in the case of giant centipedes, small vertebrates like lizards and small rodents. They do not actually “bite” their prey – instead, centipedes have a pair of modified legs that they use as pincers, called gnathosomes or gnathopods. These venom-filled appendages inject venom into their prey. Venom from a centipede sting is not harmful to humans, though it can be painful and cause irritation.

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Common Desert Centipede

The common desert centipede typically grows 4-5 inches long. It is brown and tan, with dark striped between each body segment, which lends it another nickname – the tiger centipede. Its colors are highly variable, and can range from olive brown, to yellowish, to bluish tints. Like other centipedes, they are venomous and can be aggressive if handled. However, their venom is not harmful to humans.

Giant Desert Centipede

This centipede can be much larger than the common desert centipede, but rumors of it growing to over a foot long are inaccurate. Giant desert centipedes are typically 6-8 inches long, and have rust or orange-colored bodies with yellowish legs and dark black or bluish heads. The giant desert centipede, like some other centipedes, has a pair of modified legs on its last segment that mimic the antennae on its head. This makes it difficult to know head from tail when the centipede is at rest! Though some people keep giant desert centipedes as pets, their stings can be very painful – if you see one in your home or on your property, avoid handling them.

House Centipede

A smaller, but more common, variety of centipede in Arizona is the house centipede. Many people recognize the house centipede as a beneficial creature that feeds on other insects in the home, such as silverfish, spiders and cockroaches. However, their distinct appearance gives most folks the creeps, and they’re killed on sight. The body of the house centipede is 1 to 1.5 inches in length, but its 15 pairs of long legs and long antennae give the appearance of a much larger creature. Their bodies are usually yellowish in color, with dark stripes running down the length. Like other centipedes, they are venomous, but very rarely sting humans. They can move extremely quickly, with their long and delicate legs allowing them to move up to .4 meters per second across surfaces and up walls.

Stay tuned for more information about centipedes, and some of the best ways to keep them out of your home, in our next blog post!

 

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