Are small centipedes poisonous?

Centipedes are arthropods belonging to the class Chilopoda of the subphylum Myriapoda. They have elongated flat bodies with one pair of legs per body segment. Centipedes are predominately carnivorous and prey on various insects and other small invertebrates. There are around 3,000 species of centipedes found worldwide in a variety of habitats from tropical rainforests to deserts.

Centipedes can range dramatically in size from under 1 inch to over 1 foot in length. Small centipedes are generally classified as those under 2 inches in length. Some examples of small centipede species include the house centipede Scutigera coleoptrata which is common globally, the greenhouse centipede Scutigerella immaculata, and the soil centipede Geophilus carpophagus.

One trait for which centipedes are well known is their venomous bite. Centipedes have a pair of venom claws known as forcipules which are modified legs from the first body segment located directly behind the head. The forcipules contain venom glands connected to the sharp claws which can pierce skin and inject venom. Larger tropical centipedes are capable of inflicting extremely painful bites, however most small common centipedes have relatively mild venom.

This leads to the question – are small centipedes poisonous? Here we will explore the potency of small centipede venom, symptoms from bites, treatments, and prevention.

Are Small Centipedes Venomous?

Yes, essentially all centipedes regardless of size produce venom and can deliver toxic bites. Even tiny 1 inch long house centipedes have functioning venom claws.

However, venom toxicity and volume varies greatly between different centipede species. In general, the larger the centipede, the more venom it produces and the more dangerous its bite can be to humans. Smaller centipedes tend to have weaker venom and cannot inject as much during a bite compared to larger centipedes in the 6+ inch range.

Some small centipede species such as the house centipede and soil centipede have venom which reportedly causes mild to moderate pain similar to a bee sting. The bite may leave small red marks or swelling at the wound site.

On the other hand, other small centipede species are capable of inducing much more severe reactions. For example, the Texas redheaded centipede which can reach 2 inches long has venom that contains a neurotoxin and cardiotoxin capable of causing intense burning pain, swelling, numbness, and lymph node damage.

So in summary, while the venom of small centipedes is considerably less potent than that of their larger relatives, it can still cause a range of effects from mild to extremely painful depending on the species. Any centipede bite should be treated with caution as reactions can vary.

Symptoms of Small Centipede Bites

Here are some of the common symptoms that may develop after being bitten by a small centipede:

– Moderate to severe pain at the bite site
– Redness, marks, swelling, and itching around the bite
– Mild itching, burning, or stinging spreading from the bite location
– Small amounts of bleeding from puncture wounds
– Purple or black discoloration around the bite
– Hardened lymph nodes near the site of the bite
– Headache, nausea, dizziness, fever, chills (in severe cases from toxic venom)

The bite pain normally peaks within 5-10 minutes but can persist for hours. Site reactions tend to dissipate within a few hours to a couple days depending on the individual and severity of the bite. More serious complications like severe swelling, numbness, vomiting, difficulty breathing, or increased heart rate may occur with highly toxic venom and require emergency medical treatment.

House Centipede Bites

The common house centipede Scutigera coleoptrata occurs around homes globally. House centipedes only reach around 1 to 1.5 inches in length. Their bites are not considered medically significant in most cases.

House centipede bite symptoms typically include:

– A minor stinging or burning sensation
– Mild swelling and red marks around the bite
– Itching lasting a few hours
– Purple or black discoloration of the bite wound
– Lymph node pain and swelling near the bite site

More severe reactions are very uncommon but could include severe pain, headache, nausea, and lymph node damage.

Soil Centipede Bites

Soil centipedes of the Geophilus genus are small centipedes ranging from 0.5 to 2 inches long and found in soils worldwide. Their venom is mildly toxic but not considered dangerous.

Bite symptoms are similar to the house centipede and may include:

– Moderate pain around the bite location
– Redness and minor swelling
– Itching and irritation lasting 1-2 days
– Small blood marks from the bite

Soil centipede bites may be more painful than house centipedes but serious complications are very rare.

Treatment of Small Centipede Bites

Here are some first aid and medical treatment options for bites from small centipedes:

– Clean the bite wound with soap and water to lower infection risk. Apply antiseptic if available.
– Ice packs can help reduce swelling and pain if applied for 10-20 minutes several times.
– Over-the-counter pain medications like NSAIDs (e.g. ibuprofen) or acetaminophen can relieve pain and inflammation.
– Topical hydrocortisone cream may relieve skin reactions like itching or rashes.
– Monitor bite symptoms closely and watch for any signs of severe venom reaction. Seek medical treatment promptly if you experience concerning symptoms such as difficulty breathing, chest pain, vomiting, severe swelling or numbness.
– Antivenom is not available for centipede bites. Treatment relies on managing symptoms. In severe cases intravenous fluids, electrolyte replacement, pain medications, tetanus shots, and other interventions may be used.
– Most small centipede bites resolve on their own within a few days with proper first aid and monitoring.

Are Small Centipede Bites Deadly?

Fatalities from small centipede bites are extraordinarily rare. No direct deaths have been confirmed from the bites of small house or soil centipedes.

However, there are a few isolated cases of human fatalities attributed to the venom of slightly larger centipedes in the 2 to 4 inch size range:

– The Texas redheaded centipede which can reach 2 inches reportedly caused the deaths of two young children in the early 1900s. This centipede’s venom contains highly toxic cardio and neurotoxins that could potentially be fatal in rare cases.

– The giant desert or Peruvian centipede which can exceed 4 inches long has caused reported human deaths, likely due to its highly necrotic and cardiotoxic venom.

– The Vietnamese centipede Scolopendra subspinipes is also suspected in human fatalities though documentation is lacking. This centipede can reach 4 inches in length.

In general, the potential for a small centipede bite to be lethal is extremely unlikely provided the victim receives proper medical care for any severe reactions. However, it’s important to note that larger centipedes are fully capable of inflicting fatal bites in rare circumstances. Seek immediate medical help if bitten by a sizable centipede over 2 inches long.

Prevention of Centipede Bites

Here are some tips to lower your risk of being bitten by a centipede:

– Carefully check shoes, clothes, towels, beds, and other objects before use to dislodge any hidden centipedes. This prevents accidental bites.

– Use insect repellents on skin and spray household perimeter to deter centipedes from entering.

– Eliminate centipede habitats by moving wood piles, clearing brush, and sealing cracks and crevices around the home exterior.

– Use sticky traps or insecticide sprays labeled for centipedes to control populations around the home.

– Handle and collect centipedes very carefully using gloves and tools. Avoid agitating them with quick movements.

– Shake out any towels, clothing or blankets left on floors before use to avoid hidden centipedes.

– Keep the home clean and dry to discourage centipedes which prefer damp environments. Fix any leaky plumbing or moisture issues.

Are Centipede Bites Common?

Centipede bites are relatively uncommon compared to bites and stings from other arthropods like spiders, bees, wasps, and ants. Exact statistics are lacking, but centipede bites are likely responsible for less than 1% of arthropod envenomations worldwide.

This rarity of bites is likely due to a few factors:

– **Reclusive nature:** Most centipedes are quite secretive and like hiding under logs, stones, leaf litter, and burrows. Encounters with people are less likely compared to bees or spiders.

– **Nocturnal habits:** Centipedes are mainly nocturnal and less active during the day when humans are up and about. The chances of accidental contact are lower at night.

– **Small size:** Larger centipedes can more easily break skin, while tiny centipedes have a harder time piercing human skin to deliver venom. Their small size makes them less capable biters.

– **Slow movements:** Centipedes do not typically bite humans unless pinned against skin or deliberately handled. Their slow, cautious movements make random bites uncommon.

– **Lower populations:** Centipedes generally occur in far lower numbers than social insects like ants or bees which boosts the chances of encountering the latter. There are exceptions for house centipedes which can reach higher populations around homes.

So in summary, centipede bites comprise a very small fraction of total reported bites and stings. Their inconspicuous habits lead to fewer human interactions and bite opportunities compared to faster, more numerous, and aggressive arthropods. Prompt bites upon contact are also less likely than defensive bites from other species. Still, care should be exercised around all centipedes given the potential toxicity of larger ones.

Signs of a Centipede Infestation

Although centipede bites are relatively uncommon, centipede populations can grow and become a nuisance in and around homes. Here are some signs that may indicate a centipede infestation:

– Frequent sightings of centipedes, especially in bedrooms, closets, bathrooms, basements
– Multiple centipedes caught in sticky traps or killed by insecticide treatments
– Larval centipedes visible in window wells, bathrooms, or damp walls
– Pincer marks or dark stains from crushed centipedes seen on walls
– Unexplained minor bites on pets or humans living in the home
– Household occupants with minor allergic reactions to the presence of centipedes
– Increased sightings or home invasions by other household pests that centipedes prey upon such as cockroaches, silverfish, spiders.
– Centipedes frequently falling from ceilings and walls when disturbed by noises or vibrations

Seeing 1-2 stray centipedes does not necessarily indicate a full-blown infestation. But regular sightings of centipedes, especially in multiples, points to a substantial population that may require pest control intervention. The presence of larvae also signifies reproduction is taking place.

How to Get Rid of House Centipedes

If centipedes such as Scutigera coleoptrata have become unwelcome guests in a home, here are some tips for controlling and eliminating them:

– **Apply desiccant dusts.** Dusts containing diatomaceous earth or silica gel dehydrate centipede exoskeletons leading to death within 1-2 days of contact. Apply along baseboards, cracks, and transit areas.

– **Use sticky traps.** Traps lured with pheromones catch foraging and wandering centipedes. Strategically place near suspected harborage areas like bathrooms, closets, and crawlspaces.

– **Insecticide sprays.** Look for products containing pyrethrins or pyrethroids labeled for centipede control and apply as directed around baseboards, under sinks, and other areas centipedes are seen.

– **Seal cracks and crevices.** Caulk and seal gaps in walls, around pipes and windows to deny centipede entry points and hiding spots within the home.

– **Reduce moisture.** Fix leaky plumbing, clean up spills quickly, and maintain humidity under 50% to discourage centipedes which prefer dampness.

– **De-clutter.** Eliminate piles of debris, containers, wood, and other clutter centipedes use for shelter. Clean gutters and direct rainwater runoff away from the foundation.

– **Natural repellents.** Spritz bases of walls with diluted essential oils like citronella, eucalyptus, peppermint, tea tree or lavender oil which may deter centipedes.

Addressing the root causes that attract centipedes such as excess moisture and hiding spots will improve the effectiveness of control measures. Be vigilant and consistently apply multiple tactics to reduce centipede populations over time. Seek professional pest control if infestations persist.


In conclusion, while nearly all centipedes contain venom and can bite, smaller centipedes generally pose only mild to moderate bite risk for humans rather than life-threatening. A few larger centipede species are capable of fatal envenomations in rare cases. Reactions can vary depending on an individual’s sensitivity and the species involved. Apply first aid for any bites and seek medical attention if severe symptoms develop. Reduce your chances of bites by being cautious around centipedes, checking items before use, and keeping properties clean and dry. Effective monitoring, exclusion and pest control can help eliminate problematic centipede infestations over time.

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