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Scolopendra subspinipes (Leach)
Julian R. Yates III
Extension Urban Entomologist
College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources
University of Hawaii at Manoa
Feeds mostly on small insects, spiders, earthworms, and other arthropods.
Cosmopolitan in tropical and subtropical regions. In Hawaii, S. subspinipes is the only centipede of medical importance. There are two other common but harmless species: Lethobius sp. and Mecistocephalus maxillaris (Gervais).
It attacks its prey with the last prehensorial legs, then curves its head quickly behind to implant its venomous jaws deeply and firmly into the prey. The prey is held by the centipede's other legs until it dies from the fast-acting venom.
When humans are bit, two puncture wounds are evident, and reaction to the injected venom can range from slight swelling of the immediate area to massive swelling of the affected limb. With the latter, medical attention should be sought.
This centipede has a brown head and a dark green body; the first segment is a lighter green than the rest of the body. The body is long and flat with 21 body segments. There is one pair of legs per body segment. The antennae of the centipede are long enough to be seen easily; the poisonous jaws are less visible, as they are located beneath the head. The jaws are composed of a venom gland; a venom duct; a venom-injecting curved, pointed jaw; and powerfully developed muscles. The hind legs, although prominent, are nonvenomous and are used for clasping prey. These centipedes shed their outer covering (cuticle) in order to grow.
The male produces capsules containing mature sperm cells (spermatophores), which are deposited in a reservoir (spermathecae) of the female during mating. The female then fertilizes her immature eggs (oocytes) and deposits them in a dark, protected area. She guards the eggs until they hatch.
Immature stages of centipedes are known as juveniles and depending on the species, may undergo several growth stages (molts) before reaching the adult stage.
Adults of this species have been reported to reach body lengths of 15 to 19 cm. Adults shed their skin once a year. Large scolopendrids reach adulthood in their third or fourth year and can live for more than 10 years.
Juvenile and adult centipedes live alone and are most active at night. During the day they can be found in damp, dark places: under leaf litter, rocks, and logs, and in soil crevices. When the weather is too wet or too dry, or when residential construction disrupts their habitats, these pests seek other locations, including the insides of homes. Once inside a home they seek dark areas (inside shoes and clothing, under bedding, and in cracks and crevices), although they prefer areas with high humidity such as bathrooms, damp closets, and basements. The large centipede is not aggressive toward people and will bite only when disturbed or threatened.
Outdoor control of centipedes requires the elimination of damp habitats such as those created by rocks, logs, and lumber lying on the ground, leaf litter, compost, stacked hollow tile blocks, ground covers, and abandoned automobile tires. Keep possible habitats and crawl spaces under homes well aerated. Suspect areas also may be treated with residual insecticide sprays or dusts.
To prevent centipedes from entering the home, seal all openings (cracks and crevices) such as those under swinging entrance doors and glass sliding doors. Window screens must fit well and the screen mesh must be free of holes.
A band of residual liquid insecticide may be sprayed on the ground around the perimeter of the home. There are many registered brands of insecticides that are labelled for the control of centipedes. These products contain one of the following classes of active ingredients: plant derivatives, organophosphates, or carbamates. Plant derivatives are fast acting but offer little or no residual protection.
Bucherl, W., and E. E. Buckley. 1971. Venomous invertebrates. Vol. III. Academic Press, New York.
Ebeling, W. 1978. Urban entomology. Division of Agricultural Sciences, University of California, Berkeley.
Vector Control Branch. 1982. Vector control manual. Hawaii State Health Department, Honolulu.