Centipedes are creepy household pests with elongated bodies and many pairs of legs. Many people struggling with a centipede infestation will not realize they have a centipede problem until they spot one of these bugs because centipedes leave no other signs of infestation. Most centipedes actually come into our homes looking for food because of another pest infestation, such as bed bugs, ants, termites, spiders, and scorpions.
Most centipedes are brown or yellow-colored, with some species of centipedes having dark markings or stripes on their bodies. Although many call centipedes “hundred-leggers,” most centipedes will have less than 100 legs in total. They still have many legs, though. Often, they are mistaken for millipedes, which have a similar segmented body build and are also part of the arthropod family. Centipedes will also have a pair of antennae, mouthparts, and venom-injecting pinchers, which can be dangerous and painful.
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Are Centipedes Dangerous to Humans?
In short, yes, centipedes are dangerous to humans, but it varies greatly depending on the species of centipede. All centipedes have large pinchers with a venom gland which can cause severe pain. Smaller species of centipedes, like the house centipede, produce only enough venom to cause a small localized reaction, much like a bee or wasp sting. So, if a small centipede bites you, you’ll likely not require medical attention unless you have an allergic reaction to the bite. Like the scolopendra heros or giant desert centipede, large centipede species are typically found outdoors but may wander inside occasionally. These species can administer more venom with their bites, leading to much more intense pain, along with unpleasant side effects such as nausea and the swelling of lymph nodes.
Typical signs of a centipede bite include:
- Swelling and Redness
- Localized Pain, Which Can Be Quite Intense
- Red Streaks on Human Skin
- Localized Infection
- Numbness or Tingling
Severe reactions to a centipede bite include:
- Heart Palpitations or Heart Attack
- Skin Infections
- Excessive Bleeding
- Blood or Hemoglobin in the Urine
- Lack of Oxygen to the Muscles
People who have an allergic reaction to a centipede bite may also go into anaphylactic shock, which typically happens within minutes of being bitten. Anaphylactic shock may include facial swelling, chest discomfort, hives or rash, loss of consciousness, and extremely low blood pressure.
If you’re allergic to other insect bites or stings, such as spider bites or bee stings, you should closely monitor yourself if a centipede bites you since you may be more prone to an allergic reaction from other bugs.
For most others, centipede bites can be treated with ice packs, antihistamines, or pain relievers to ease the pain, which typically goes away in a few hours to a couple of days.
Are Centipedes Dangerous to Any Pets?
Unfortunately, yes. Centipedes are dangerous to our pets, and many pets, such as cats and dogs, will go after these household pests due to their natural curiosity and hunting instinct. Most centipedes found around the house do not release enough venom to harm our pets, although smaller dogs and cats may be more prone to adverse reactions due to their smaller size. Cats and dogs may experience swelling and discomfort at the bite area but are unlikely to need serious medical care or attention. If a centipede bites your pet, call your veterinarian for your next steps to relieve your pet’s discomfort and continue monitoring them for more severe reactions to the bite.
If a larger, outdoor centipede species bites your pet, this is more cause for alarm because larger species can release more centipede venom with their bites. The larger amount of venom raises your pet’s chances of having a more uncomfortable, adverse reaction to the centipede bite. If your pet is bitten by a species of centipede that is longer than three inches (most likely indicating it’s an outdoors species), contact your veterinarian immediately to see if you should bring your pet in or continue to monitor the situation at home.
Are Centipedes Poisonous?
Centipedes are not poisonous, but they are venomous. Poisonous and venomous are often used interchangeably, but they have different meanings. Poisonous animals, such as a poison dart frog, cause harm when they are ingested.
Venomous animals, such as scorpions or snakes, inject the toxin into you. This makes centipedes venomous animals because you have to be bitten by a centipede for the toxin to transfer to you.
All types of centipedes are considered venomous, but the severity of the venom will vary based on the species and how much they can release at one time. Most centipedes found indoors will not release enough venom to cause serious harm to a human unless they experience an allergic reaction to the venom.
Do Centipedes Sting or Bite?
Centipedes do not have teeth. However, their stings are often called bites.
Instead of using their jaws, centipedes have a pair of hollow front legs, which they use to pinch their prey and inject venom. So, they don’t technically have stingers or bite, and calling it a centipede sting is arguably more accurate. Still, you will find many pest control professionals and websites that refer to centipede stings as centipede bites and the other way around.
Do Centipedes Pose Any Health Risk?
Centipede bites are rarely life-threatening to healthy adults but can be dangerous to small children. Unless an adult has an allergic reaction, they will rarely require serious medical attention for their centipede bite. As a whole, centipedes are considered nuisance pests because they do not cause massive damage to our homes or pose a serious health risk to most healthy adults.
However, most homeowners still want to rid their homes of these creepy critters because being bitten by a centipede is incredibly painful. Small children and pets are at a higher risk of adverse reactions to centipede bites. In addition, if someone is allergic to centipede bites or other insect bites or stings, they’re at a greater risk of going into anaphylactic shock, which is a serious and potentially life-threatening reaction.
If your pet is bitten by a species of centipede that is longer than three inches (most likely indicating it’s an outdoors species), contact your veterinarian immediately to see if you should bring your pet in or continue to monitor the situation at home.
Centipedes may be beneficial to our homes because of the many annoying pests they eat. However, they’re irritating pests to have around because of their intensely painful bites, and if you have pets or small children around, centipedes are a more dangerous threat to their health.
Fortunately, most seriously dangerous centipedes are outdoor centipede species found in the tropics, deserts, and water. The majority of centipedes you run across in your home are smaller house centipedes, which are far more scared of you and will only sting you if they feel threatened or are pressed up against your skin.
Otherwise, you’re unlikely to have problems with these pests as they’re nocturnal and only come out at night to hunt other pests down.
If you begin spotting many centipedes or seeing centipedes during the daytime, consider calling your local pest control professional because you may have a pest problem, such as ants or termites, that is attracting centipedes to your home.