Living With House Centipedes

House centipedes move rapidly, often stopping and starting abruptly using their 15 pairs of legs. The behavior is startling to most people and certain to elicit screams from my daughter. A few tidbits of their biology are discussed in a previous post.

Centipedes are predators on other small animals, mostly arthropods. The first pair of true legs in centipedes are modified into a pair of venom injecting structures for handling prey called the forcipules (= tiny forceps). These legs, immediately behind the head are short, extend under the mouth opening and are adapted to puncturing and holding prey. On the tip of each leg is a venom claw. The forcipules are sharp, sclerotized and can penetrate most prey. They contain the opening of the venom gland duct. Centipedes can inject paralytic venoms.

Forcipules of the House Centipede, Scutigera coleoptrata
Micrograph from Dugan et al.*

Dugon and colleagues recently published* a comparison of forcipules with detailed electron micrographs. They included the house centipeded, Scutigera coleoptrata.

House Centipede

Most centipedes are capable of injecting venom into people who handle them. However, the forcipules of the house centipede are typically not capable of puncturing the human skin and injecting venom. House centipedes startle people but stings are rare. Larger centipedes can and do sting people. The stings are described as painful, but not usually life-threatening.

*Arthropod Structure & Development 41 (2012) 231-243

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
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7 Responses to Living With House Centipedes

  1. Anonymous says:

    Please contact me in regard to the venom cotent of the centipede. My wife is highly allergic to bee stings and wondering the type of toxin found in he centipede is the same as a bee. Also curious to how dangerous these are to my 1 year old daughter? Also if my one year old is bitten and not able to get to hospital right away what can be done to maybe counteract the venom in my 1 year old Daughter?

    • jjneal says:

      The house centipede is not capable of delivering a “bite” to a human. Some of the exotic centipedes are problematic. The centipede venom is not the same toxin as been toxin. Your 1 year old is unlikely to come in contact with a house centipede, let alone be bit by one.

      House centipedes require moisture and one way to keep them out of a house is to fix leaks including leaking plumbing. Penn State has information on management of house centipedes if they are an issue.

  2. Pingback: Stinging centipedes | Ewomencleanse

  3. Anonymous says:

    I read this blog post because I am personally terrified of centipedes, and was curious as to what threat they posed to humans. I am relieved to see that the average house centipede is of low concern, although I’m sure if I encounter one I will still be startled! Very informative post!

  4. Gabby says:

    Im 10 and i found one on my bed will it bite me? I told my parents and they checked 3 times but they found nothing what time do they come out ?

  5. Robin Hubert says:

    I beg to differ about house centipede’s ability to puncture human skin. I was just bitten last night as I was sleeping on the floor, and I woke up to the pain and saw the creature sprinting off. I had apparently, inadvertently, trapped the animal between my hand and something (floor, pillow), and it bit. It hurt enough to wake me and drew a tiny drop of blood from my thumb (at the proximal interphalangeal joint crease) but never bothered me afterward.

  6. jjneal says:

    Many people report handling them without suffering bites. Your encounter was not typical.

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