The Texas redheaded centipede, also known as the giant desert centipede, giant Sonoran centipede, and giant redheaded centipede, seems to terrify a lot of people−at least its photo does. This arthropod, however, found in northern Mexico and across the southern United States, is amazingly adapted for survival. Scolopendra heros can live in a variety of habitats, from damp to dry, and its coloration can scare off potential predators, expecting the centipede to be poisonous.

Compared to other arthropods seen in North America, this centipede appears huge. Its average length is 17 centimeters (6.5 inches) but can reach up to 20 centimeters (8 inches). It has 21 or 23 pairs of legs and also a pair of pincer-like appendages in front of its legs. Called gnathostomes or gnathopods, these appendages pinch rather than bite, injecting venom into prey">prey.

The carnivorous Texas redheaded centipede is an important part of the food web. It eats insects, lizards, frogs, and rodents, and is also preyed upon by owls, coyotes, ringtail cats, bobcats, and badgers.

During the daytime, centipedes avoid sunlight, staying underground or under rocks, or in decomposing logs, leaf litter, or other crevices. When a centipede mother lays eggs in one of these sheltered spaces, she stays with the eggs, coiling around them for protection. She grooms the eggs, too, most likely to keep mold and bacteria from growing on them.

  1. Do centipedes have 100 legs?

    • Answer

      Not necessarily! Known centipede species have as few as 15 and as many as 191 pairs of legs.

  2. How large is the largest centipede?

    • Answer

      The Scolopendra gigantea, found in the American tropics, can grow to a length of 28 cm (11 inches). It preys on small vertebrates, including frogs and mice.

  3. Is the Texas redheaded centipede dangerous to humans?

    • Answer

      The venom injected from the pincer-like gnathostomes, while quite painful, is not strong enough to be fatal for humans. Regardless, it’s not recommended to handle centipedes with bare hands!

adapt
Verb

to adjust to new surroundings or a new situation.

appendage
Noun

part of something that extends out from the main body, such as an arm or leg.

arthropod
Noun

invertebrate animal with a segmented body, exoskeleton, and jointed appendages.

carnivorous
Adjective

meat-eating.

Noun

all related food chains in an ecosystem. Also called a food cycle.

gnathopod
Noun

crustacean (arthropod) appendage modified to serve as a jaw.

gnathostome
Noun

vertebrate animal with jaws.

Noun

environment where an organism lives throughout the year or for shorter periods of time.

predator
Noun

animal that hunts other animals for food.

prey
Noun

animal that is hunted and eaten by other animals.

prey
Verb

to target, victimize, or devour.

venom
Noun

poison fluid made in the bodies of some organisms and secreted for hunting or protection.