Are Centipedes Poisonous?

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Key Takeaways:

  • Centipedes are venomous and inject prey with toxins using maxillipeds and fangs.
  • The venom is not strong enough to be life-threatening to humans.
  • Centipede bites are very painful but not considered dangerous or fatal.
  • Larger centipedes can inflict more severe bites.
  • Bites may cause localized swelling, redness, pain, headaches, nausea.
  • Seek medical care for severe reactions, compromised immunity, or children.
  • Prevent bites by reducing centipede habitat, sealing cracks, clearing clutter.


Centipedes are predatory arthropods with elongated, flattened bodies divided into numerous segments. Each body segment contains a pair of legs, allowing for extremely rapid movement. Centipedes are adept nocturnal hunters that primarily feed on insects and other small invertebrates. There are around 3,000 species of centipedes throughout the world, ranging vastly in size from just a few millimeters to over 12 inches in length.

This article will comprehensively evaluate the potential dangers posed by centipedes through an in-depth analysis of centipede venom and bite effects. Are centipedes poisonous to humans? How toxic is their venom? What symptoms might result from a centipede bite? Read on to discover the answers to these questions and more regarding centipede toxicity. The information provided will help readers understand centipede dangers, prevent bites, and respond appropriately if bitten.

Gaining a thorough understanding of centipede venom potency and possible health implications can help promote safety around these prevalent arthropods. The content will be useful for anyone who encounters centipedes, especially in regions where larger species are abundant. By evaluating relevant research and statistics, this article provides a factual and realistic perspective on risks posed by centipedes.

Are Centipedes Venomous?

All centipedes are venomous and utilize their venom to subdue and kill prey. The venom is produced in a gland located at the base of their forcipules, which are modified front legs that contain venom claws or fangs. When hunting, centipedes use these maxillipeds to puncture the outer surface of prey and inject their venom internally.

The venom acts to immobilize and digest prey by destroying tissue and breaking down proteins. Components of centipede venom include neurotransmitter inhibitors, cardiotoxins, and cytolytic peptides 1. These substances disrupt nerve signaling, compromise cardiovascular function, and destroy cells and tissue at the bite location. The venom takes effect rapidly, quickly incapacitating smaller prey.

So in summary, yes, all species of centipedes produce and administer venom through specialized maxillipeds. They rely on their venom to swiftly paralyze and digest prey 2.

Is Centipede Venom Dangerous to Humans?

The venom potency of centipedes is highly variable between species. In general, larger centipedes are capable of injecting much more venom with a more toxic composition. However, the venom of most species is not considered strong enough to seriously endanger or kill a healthy human adult 3 4 5.

According to arachnologist Richard Vetter, “Centipede venom does not easily cross human skin, and if it does, it is not toxic enough to cause life-threatening symptoms in humans” 4. While the venom can certainly pack a punch, it is designed to act on smaller invertebrate prey rather than large vertebrates.

That being said, the venomous bites of especially sizable centipedes should always be taken very seriously and treated as medical emergencies. Severe reactions are possible in rare cases, particularly among sensitive individuals or children. But in general, centipede venom is not regarded as deadly to grown humans.

What Are the Effects of a Centipede Bite?

When a centipede bites a human, the primary reaction is intense pain and discomfort at the wound site. The bite usually only affects the localized area without spreading through the body.

According to one study published in Wilderness & Environmental Medicine, the most common effects of centipede envenomation include 5:

  • Localized swelling and redness
  • Intense burning pain
  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Enlarged lymph nodes near bite
  • Low-grade fever

The pain from a centipede bite is often described as immediate, sharp, and extremely intense. This severe pain results from the venom components that tear tissue and activate pain receptors. The pain typically reaches maximum intensity within 5 to 60 minutes post-bite and can persist for hours 5.

In addition to severe pain, centipede bites can cause pronounced swelling and redness at the wound. Lymph nodes near the area of the bite may become enlarged and tender. Low-grade fever, headaches, nausea, and generally feeling ill are also possible systemic effects 5.

How Dangerous Are Centipede Bites to Humans?

While centipede bites are extraordinarily painful, they are very rarely life-threatening to humans. However, both the level of pain and potential medical risks depend heavily on the size and species of the centipede.

Bites from smaller house centipedes result in mild to moderately painful bites that do not necessitate medical care. But larger centipedes, such as Scolopendra gigantea of the tropics, can inflict intensely painful bites that require immediate emergency treatment 3.

According to one medical review, centipede bites can cause severe symptoms in certain high-risk cases, including 3:

  • Bites from larger species
  • Allergic reactions
  • Sensitized individuals
  • Bites to vulnerable areas like eyes
  • Bites to children

However, severe reactions beyond intense localized pain are not typical for healthy adults bitten by smaller centipedes. While medical attention is advisable, life-threatening complications are very uncommon.

Overall, centipede bites are best described as highly painful rather than highly dangerous. But the possibility of severe symptoms means bites warrant careful monitoring and evaluation. Seeking prompt medical care is recommended.

What to Do After a Centipede Bite

If you are bitten by a centipede, the first step is to thoroughly clean the wound with soap and water to prevent infection. Ice packs can help reduce swelling and pain. Over-the-counter analgesics like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can further relieve pain.

Be sure to monitor the bite for signs of severe reaction, including pronounced swelling, blistering, numbness, muscle contractions, vomiting, difficulty breathing, and low blood pressure 3. Seek emergency medical care if any of these symptoms develop.

For moderate reactions, follow up with a primary care physician within 24 hours of the bite. Describe the centipede characteristics and reaction details to aid diagnosis and treatment. Based on evaluation, the doctor may prescribe stronger pain medication, topical creams, antibiotics, or other remedies as warranted.

Children who are bitten may require more aggressive treatment even if reactions appear mild. Seek pediatric care to be safe. Anyone with a compromised immune system should also take extra precautions when bitten. While not typical, severe reactions are always a possibility that require vigilance.

How to Avoid Centipede Bites

The best means of preventing centipede bites is reducing their potential habitat in and around your home. Centipedes thrive in damp conditions and favor locations like wood piles, compost bins, masses of dead leaves, mulch beds, and crawl spaces. Keep moisture controlled and clutter minimized.

Seal any cracks, crevices, or openings throughout the structure that could allow entry. Install door sweeps, weatherstripping, mesh screens, and sealants to close gaps. Remove dense plant ground cover near the home’s perimeter. Divert water runoff away from the foundation.

Inside, meticulously clean to deprive centipedes of prey like silverfish and pantry pests. Eliminate moisture sources like plumbing leaks. Use dehumidifiers to maintain indoor humidity under 50%. Ensure ventilation and air circulation in damp basements and crawl spaces.

Insecticides may also help control centipedes. Apply residual sprays or dusts along possible entry points in the home’s periphery. Contact insecticides can kill individual centipedes observed inside. But prevention through habitat modification is most effective for deterring infestations long-term.


Centipedes are undoubtedly venomous, as they produce potent toxins used to swiftly immobilize prey. However, human fatalities resulting from centipede bites are essentially nonexistent. While their venom can induce extremely painful bite reactions, it does not appear to pose a major toxic threat to grown humans in most cases.

Still, severe reactions are possible depending on the circumstances, so caution is warranted. The best approach after a bite is prompt first aid and close monitoring for any signs of serious reaction, along with follow-up medical care as recommended. With proper understanding and precautions, the dangers posed by these fascinating venomous invertebrates can be minimized.

Frequently Asked Questions About Centipede Venom

Are house centipedes poisonous?

House centipedes are venomous, but their venom is not considered dangerous to humans. The tiny amounts injected by their small fangs may cause slight localized pain and swelling similar to a bee sting, but are very unlikely to cause severe reactions in humans.

What happens if a centipede bites you?

The primary effect of a centipede bite is severe pain at the bite site resulting from the venom. This intense pain may persist for multiple hours. Swelling, redness, enlarged lymph nodes, headache, nausea, and low fever are also possible effects.

Can a centipede kill a human?

No, centipede venom is not known to be fatal to humans. While bites can certainly be medically significant, there are no documented cases of human deaths directly resulting from a centipede bite. Even bites from larger tropical centipedes like Scolopendra gigantea are not usually life-threatening.

What is the most poisonous centipede?

The giant desert centipede Scolopendra heros is one of the most venomous centipede species. Found in the southern United States and northern Mexico, it can grow over 8 inches long and its sizable fangs can inflict severe bites. But even this species is unlikely to kill a healthy adult human.

How long does centipede bite pain last?

The severe pain from a centipede bite usually reaches maximum intensity within 5-60 minutes after being bitten. This intense pain can last anywhere from 4 to 48 hours based on the size of the centipede and individual response. Over-the-counter pain medication may provide some relief.

Should I see a doctor for a centipede bite?

It is advisable to consult a doctor after being bitten by a centipede. While most bites can be treated with first aid, a physician can assess the bite severity, watch for infection, provide stronger pain management, and treat any allergic response. Seek immediate care for serious symptoms.

Can I die from a centipede bite?

While theoretically possible, human fatalities directly attributed to centipede bites are virtually nonexistent. Unless you have a severe allergic response, are a small child, or receive a highly traumatic bite, centipede venom is unlikely to be lethal. But do seek medical evaluation for any bite as a precaution.

How do I treat a centipede bite?

For minor centipede bites, clean the wound thoroughly, apply ice, elevate the area, and take over-the-counter pain medication as needed. See a doctor if signs of infection or allergic reaction develop. For more severe bites, go to an emergency room for evaluation and possible intravenous medications.

Should I kill centipedes I find in my home?

It is not necessary to kill every centipede you encounter indoors. Gentle relocation outside is an option if you wish to avoid bites. However, frequent sightings may signal an infestation requiring pest control measures, including insecticide sprays, improved sanitation and moisture control, sealing entry points, and removing centipede habitat.

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