A description of the multi-segmented insect, the centipede, and what to do if bitten by one.
The centipede (Class Chilopoda) is an elongated flattened, multi-segmented myriapod. Each segment has one pair of legs, and, depending on the species, they have between 15 and 181 pairs. Centipedes have one pair of antennae. Most have simple eyes, however, some have complex eyes and some have none at all. The most important senses are touch and smell. Centipedes are predators, feeding on insects and small vertebrates, depending upon the species. They subdue their prey with a mild venom issued from fangs called gnathopods. Gnathopods are actually modified legs.
As a rule, the fewer legs a centipede has, the faster it can run. Three out of four centipede orders are designed to run. One order lives in the soil and gets around by expanding and contracting its body, similar to how an earthworm moves. The house centipede is the fastest runner of all the centipedes. Of the 3000 known species of centipede, most are rather small, being only 1 1/8 to 2 1/4 inches. Some do grow rather large. Scolopendra gigantea of tropical Central and South America reaches 10 ¼ inches in length. The largest North American centipede is about 7 inches in length.
Centipedes are most common to temperate and tropical regions. They are secretive, living under rocks, in burrows, and among soil debris, and prefer humid environments. They occur at a wide range of elevations.
Centipedes of the Southwest prefer to hunt at night. This helps them avoid dehydration. They can also be seen during the day when the weather is cloudy or rainy. They are occasionally encountered indoors, especially in newly developed areas. Since they are not dangerous and are beneficial insectivores, they should be release outdoors away from human habitation.
During reproduction, the male and female touch each other with vibrating antennae and form a circle. The male positions himself beneath the female and rocks up and down. This is repeated until he produces a small oval sperm packet (spermatophore) on the ground. He then moves the female over the sperm packet so she can pick it up with the posterior end of her body. The average female lays 60 eggs, but can produce double that amount. The eggs, which are coated with secretions from the females posterior, are dropped into a crevice in the soil and abandoned. Hatchlings are born with four pairs of legs and gain additional pairs with each molt. House centipedes molt six times before they are mature.
Centipedes eat flies, spiders , and other soft-bodied arthropods. The largest North American centipede preys upon vertebrates such as small lizards and baby mice, as well. Poison is injected to subdue the prey animals.
Centipedes are nonaggressive and their venom is mild. The bite of a centipede is painful at its worst. The affected area may be tender for a few weeks and heals slowly. Tetanus is the main concern. If bitten, allow the wound to bleed, then wash with soap and water and apply antiseptic. Consult a physician for information regarding tetanus shots.