Sunday, January 27, 2013

Household Bugs -- Do Centipedes Bite?

Do Centipedes Bite?

Well -- yes. But don't freak out! The centipedes in your house aren't going to come swarming up on your bed at night and chew you to death (although that would be pretty cool -- not for you, but for everyone else). Yes, centipedes can bite. 

This beautiful centipede was photographed in Hawaii, hanging out in volcanic soil. This tropical specimen is related to the brown centipedes that you find in your house, but its natural history and living requirements are a world away. 

This big, freaky centipede was photographed in Oman. Notice the interesting fake "head," with its split end that a predator might mistake for the head -- a bite on the tail is generally less fatal to the centipede than a bite on the head!

These big, wild centipedes are a bit different from the brown, domesticated centipede that lives in your basement. For one thing, your centipedes take care of you by eating lots of gross and potentially damaging things like cockroach eggs (yes, they eat cockroach eggs. Who else does that for you?). The brown centipede that lives in your basement is known scientifically as Scutigera coleoptrata, and it's one of several similar species. It has 15 pairs of legs, and before spreading throughout the world was once endemic to the Mediterranean region. In addition to gobbling up roach eggs, it also kills and eats spiders and other household bugs.

Yes yes, you say -- all well and good. But does it bite?

Centipedes are venomous -- but in a pretty cool and unique way. Their front-most legs have evolved to deliver an amount of venom to their prey. Often they will withdraw after biting prey to let the sting take effect. They can also distinguish between easy prey and dangerous insects like wasps. Centipedes are pretty smart, as it turns out! They can certainly tell that you are not prey, so your chances of being hunted and attacked by your house centipedes is zero.

But if you accidentally trap one in clothing, or make it believe its life is being threatened, a centipede is able to defend itself with those poisonous front leg/stingers. The bite is mild, less intense than a honeybee, and if you're asleep you'll probably sleep through it.

So yes, they bite, and no, it's not a big deal.

Centipedes eat so many harmful bugs that in general you should give them a pass and focus on the bugs that can really your life, like termites.

And remember -- it could be worse. Your basement could be full of these:

More Questions about Household Bugs? Click here for a ton of photos and information!

all images courtesy of wikimedia commons


  1. Thanks for the answers I was seeking. I have the frilly ones in my basement. They give me the eebie, geebies.

  2. Thank you your post was very informative. ^_^

  3. Ok so they eat things you don't really want in your house. I'm cool with that. But they keep biting my 2 ye old while she's sleeping. We don't have brown ones. The ones we have look like what Google images shows as a silverfish which is a type of centipede. How can I keep them out of her bed? We put a dryer sheet between her crib sheet and mattress and she didn't have any bites but yesterday I washed her sheets and put em back dryer sheet still in place and she woke up with a nasty looking swollen bite on her face right under her eye. Now its extremely swollen almost to the point of affecting her vision

    According to this site silverfish don't bite but scrap.

  5. I've been stung on the thumb by one that was under a pile of laundry on the laundry room floor. The pain was NOT less intense than a honey bee felt to me worse than a wasp sting. The pain didn't last as long as a wasp sting, maybe only an hour or 2, and the sting area swelled a little bigger than a regular mosquito bite. We have the occasional brown, long-legged ones in our basement. I saw the centipede drop out of the clothes when I picked them up, right after it zapped me. I never killed them before because of the pest control, but now I do. Our dog got stung by one when she tried to eat it. She yelped and now gives them a wide berth when she spots one in the basement! I also had one crawl up my hand when I was was picking up the shampoo bottle in the shower.'s a good thing nobody saw me do that naked heebie jeebie dance!! It still gives me the creepies!!

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  7. I just seen a clear looking one on my coach. I was going to kill it but it disappeared. I have a 7 month old son, I don't want it to bit him. How can I get rid of it ????

    1. The kid could very well go up for adoption or you could possibly wrap the rodent in swaddling and leave it at the monastery. As for the bug....well as luck would have it, our monetary system here is fast approaching an economic collapse so you might want to google how to prepare the bugger in a tasty salad or something. Oh and on the bright side; if you google how many spiders the human consumes each year while sleeping... whooooaaa that explains my sweety's foul mouth in the morning.

  8. I just killed one at the ranch and it was big dark reddish brown color...If I wouldn't of caught it would it be possible it would of bitten us at night..I found it in my 2nd story bed room and people are telling me that on the floor where I smashed it the venom is still harmful. I don't believe it but is that true they said for me to put bleach on the floor in case some one had an open cut and step on the marks.

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  10. Thanks for this post. I've been up all night researching because I just had my first encounter with a house centipede (although I'm no stranger to the outdoor variety, including the extra large kind found in Hawaii). Carniverous, poisonous, and able to walk away when legs are removed-the thought was just about doing me in. It was nice to see an article that focused on some of the more interesting aspects of centipedes.

    As far as the toddler that is getting bitten, that was my big worry too, as it was on the wall by the crib. Try pulling the crib away from the wall, try a dehumidifier (which seems to work against the common house centipede-but won't do a thing for your desert varieties), and borax around the perimeter of your house. All learned in the last two hours of internet research :)

  11. I have a dramatic phobia of any bug with more than six legs. Altho this made those little brwn cents seem helpful (because spiders make me want to cry for mommy) im vry skittish concerning them. Can they crawl into ur ears?

  12. I beg your pardon. .. I live in Hawaii and I have been bitten several times and one of them happen to be while sleeping in bed. I will tell you. . I DID NOT sleep thru it and the pain is far worse then that of a honey bee sting.

  13. got bit 4 times in bed by one it raised my blood pressure to 150/105 bad headache dizzyness and felt like i wanted to throw up all night. after one day it goes away and just itches im guessing from the poison idk. but it sucked id rather have other insects then that bite again not fun..