You’ve spotted centipedes in your home. You’d like to smash them, but they move too fast and seem to disappear into tiny cracks or crevices. What are these creepy things doing in your home? Do centipedes bite? If they do, are centipede bites poisonous? How can you distinguish a centipede bite from other insect bites? Should you keep anything special on hand to treat a centipede bite if one gets you, your child, or your pet? Keep reading. We’ve collected everything you need to know.
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Will Centipedes Bite Me?
Centipedes don’t have teeth. They do have “poison claws” on their front legs that look like jaws to humans. The claws are like pincers and can make small punctures in your skin. The centipede can inject venom into the punctures, which results in a “bite” to you. Your skin may also blister wherever a centipede crawls, even if it doesn’t bite you because the claws scratch your skin.
A centipede bite can range from barely noticeable to extremely painful. Many people compare it to feeling like a bee sting. Unless you are allergic to the venom or are in very poor health, a centipede bite isn’t particularly harmful. Children bitten by a large centipede may have a serious reaction and need medical treatment. You can learn more about how poisonous centipedes are in this article.
Two kinds of centipedes are found in American deserts. One is the giant desert centipede, and the other is the common desert centipede. The first is the largest centipede in North America and can grow up to eight inches in length.
Most have orange bodies with black heads and tails. However, the giant centipede can also have a darker body and a red head. It’s known as the giant redheaded centipede or Texas redheaded centipede in some areas. It lives in woodland areas as well as deserts.
The common desert centipede is smaller and averages around four inches in length. Their bodies range in color from browns to oranges. Their heads can be brown, red, or orange. They are distinguished from other centipedes by their body stripes. That’s led to names like tiger centipede and banded centipede.
Both desert centipedes will bite humans if disturbed or provoked. Both have venomous bites that can be painful.
Stone centipedes are less than two inches in length. They live in damp areas such as your garden. You may occasionally find one in the house, simply because it’s too dry outside for it. They have poor eyesight and stay hidden under rocks, mulch, or leaves.
Stone centipedes prefer to escape your notice rather than bite you. They can throw a sticky liquid at you if they feel threatened. Most people ignore them because they’re eating harmful insects, but if one should bite you, treat the wound like any other bite. There’s information here on using centipede repellent to eliminate them.
The giant centipede, known officially as Scolopendra gigantea, lives primarily in rain forests and tropical areas. It grows up to a foot long. Giant centipedes have various body colors with heads of a different color.
They are able to kill large prey, including frogs and small mammals. Their bite can be extremely painful but isn’t fatal despite the large amount of venom they can inject.
Although the name centipede comes from the Latin for hundred and legs, centipedes don’t have exactly one hundred legs. Their legs are in pairs, one pair for each segment except for the front and rear segments. It’s hard to tell the front of a centipede from the rear, as both ends have elongated legs.
Their legs allow centipedes to move very quickly. All those legs and the rapid movement are what frighten people. It’s thought that the two pairs of extra long legs keep centipedes from tripping over themselves as the scuttle about.
What Are House Centipedes?
House centipedes come inside looking for food. Humans are not prey for them. They like insects smaller than they are that they can jump on. If you have an infestation of house centipedes, you likely have other pests that attract them. There is more information here about what attracts centipedes.
They immobilize their meals with their legs and inject venom when necessary. They bite people only in defense. Their claws are not as strong as some other centipedes, and they aren’t able to make deep punctures.
They Are Little and Fast
House centipedes are small. The bodies are rarely more than an inch long, but their legs make them look longer. Their bodies are usually a shade of yellow, with three darker stripes running lengthwise. The legs also have dark stripes. House centipedes have good vision, unlike the other species of centipedes.
Like most centipedes, house centipedes move very quickly. They may dart toward you, but that’s because your clothing can look like a hiding place. They aren’t attacking you despite the appearance.
Symptoms of a Bite
A house centipede can’t bite you very hard because their pincers aren’t large enough to inflict much damage to human skin. You’ll likely just notice a small red bump. If you’re allergic to any insect bites, you may need to seek medical attention.
Symptoms include, but aren’t limited to:
For most people, the symptoms disappear within two days, if not within hours.
Centipedes prey on most other insects, including: Ants, Cockroaches, Silverfish, Spiders, Termites, Worms.
Centipedes use their legs to subdue their food, before injecting venom.
Centipedes enter your home only to eat other bugs. An infestation of house centipedes is a signal that you have a problem with other pests.
How Can I Tell If a Centipede Bit Me?
If bitten by a centipede, you’ll probably see punctures where the centipede’s claws pierced your skin. There will be a minimum of two wounds, but you could have several. If you have a group of punctures, they may be in a circular pattern. Snakes or other insects can leave punctures that appear similar. You generally know what bit you because you’ll see whatever it was.
You may see what looks like bruising around the punctures. Some people experience minimal bleeding.
Centipede Bites Affect Everyone Differently:
- The depth of the punctures and size of each will depend on the size of the centipede.
- The amount of swelling or redness in the bite area also depends on the centipede, as well as your sensitivity to the venom.
The first symptom you’ll notice if a centipede bites you is pain. It’s usually a sharp sensation that may quickly subside. In some cases, the area may continue to hurt for a couple of days. Short-lived or long-lasting, the pain tends to radiate outwards from the bite.
Later symptoms include: Blisters, Numbness, Redness and swelling (Pic.1), Tenderness in the bite area.
You may also feel anxious or develop a headache.
If you’re allergic, you may experience one or more of the following: Difficulty breathing, Dizziness, Fatigue, Fever, Nausea, Palpitations.
Depending on the severity of the symptoms, you may need to consult a health care professional (Pic.2,3).
It’s important to clean the area of the bite promptly with warm water and soap. If not disinfected and kept clean, the bite can become infected (Pic.4).
A serious, but very rare, complication is necrosis, which is when your cells die from infection or trauma. Gangrene can result if necrosis is left untreated.
Some symptoms of necrosis are:
- Blackened and swollen skin.
- Fever, chills, and sweating.
- Oozing fluids.
As the symptoms progress, the skin loosens and peels away. Immediate medical attention is necessary.
How Do I Treat a Bite?
After cleaning the area where the centipede bit you, apply cold to the bite. You can use cold water or an ice pack. The coldness will constrict your blood vessels, which will prevent the spread of the venom.
If needed, take over-the-counter medications such as:
- Aspirin or other non-steroid pain killers.
- Anti-anxiety products.
- Anti-inflammatory products.
If you consult a doctor, you may receive prescription medications, including antibiotics to prevent infection.
The most important thing you can do for a centipede bite is keep the wound clean. If you have meat tenderizer on hand, apply a small amount to the wound. You can also use papaya pulp. Both contain an enzyme that neutralizes centipede venom.
A hot compress relieves pain for most individuals if there is no swelling. If you have swelling and pain, you may find that a cold compress or ice pack provides more relief.
Centipedes do not have stingers and leave nothing in the puncture for you to remove. Unless you experience symptoms of an allergic reaction to the bite, medical intervention is rarely necessary.
For the most part, centipedes don’t bite people. They prefer to put their energy into killing their prey. Their appearance is startling, and it’s natural to want to kill one when you see it in your home. If you’re able to eliminate the destructive pests, such as termites, that the centipedes eat, your problem with centipedes will go away. A centipede bite is rarely serious, and you can safely regard it as no different from any other insect bite.
You can find further details of Centipedes Control here.