The serious centipede enthusiast can look forward to a lifetime of interest and discovery. Over 3,000 species (class Chilopoda) have been described so far, and we know little about most! Biologists place Centipedes and the world’s 10,000+Millipedes in the same Super Order, Myriapoda, but any similarities end there. The name “Giant Centipede” is applied to a variety of species. Those most commonly seen in trade are the Amazonian Giant Centipede (Scolopendra gigantean) and the Vietnamese or Red-headed Centipede (S. subspinipes), but as many as 6 species have been recorded as being sold under the same name.
Centipede ownership requires consideration, and should only be undertaken by mature, cautious adults. Bites from various species have caused fevers, dizziness, cardiac problems, breathing difficulties and fatalities. Allergic reactions to their venom can occur – as evidenced by a Bronx Zoo co-worker of mine, who was hospitalized after being bitten by a species considered to be harmless.
The following information can be applied to then the care of most commonly available centipedes. Please post below for information on individual species.
Centipedes are found on all continents except Antarctica, and live in varied habitats, including deserts, grasslands, caves, temperate woodlands, rainforests and human dwellings. The true giants are confined to tropical regions.
All are voracious predators, with larger species sometimes taking bats, tarantulas, rodents and other sizable animals; please see this article for further information. When attacked, Centipedes release irritating secretions and can inflict wounds with their fangs (which are actually modified legs connected to venom glands) and pointed rear legs.
Centipedes have 15-30 pairs of legs. The Amazonian Giant Centipede, Scolopendra gigantea, is the largest species; females may top 12 inches in length.
Centipedes may be kept in screen-covered aquariums, but bear in mind that they are escape artists that can exert a tremendous amount of pressure and are able squeeze through impossibly-tiny openings. Their terrarium’s cover must be secured by 6-8 clips. Gallon jars with screw-on tops are an escape proof option. I do not recommend plastic terrariums with clip-on tops. Please see this article to read about an escape that occurred during my tenure at the Bronx Zoo.
Plastic caves, a deep substrate and cork bark shelters should be provided.
“Ant farm” style set-ups may allow you to watch your pets’ below-ground activities. A small aquarium placed upside down within a larger one will confine their burrowing activities to the area along the glass; please see article linked below.
The substrate should be 4-6 inches deep and comprised of coconut husk, peat moss and top soil. Plain coconut husk, as well as leaf litter and decaying wood, have also been used with success.
Red/black reptile night bulbs will allow you to watch your pets’ nocturnal activities.
Most do well at temperatures of 72-85 F; please post below for individual species’ details.
Centipedes are prone to dehydration and require humidity levels of approximately 75%. Humidity can be increased by misting, moistening the substrate, and partially covering the lid with plastic. Reptile misters and humidity gauges are useful in arid surroundings.
Centipedes are “pathologically unsociable” and must be housed alone.
Centipedes will thrive on a diet of crickets, roaches and earthworms. Wild-caught insects may be offered to help balance the diet. They will also accept canned grasshoppers and snails via tongs, but be extremely careful when feeding in this manner. Mice are not required, even for the largest species.
Powdering food once weekly with a reptile vitamin/mineral supplement may be beneficial.
Centipedes obtain water from their food, but should be provided with a shallow water bowl.
Daily Care and Maintenance
Centipedes remain below ground when molting, at which time high humidity levels are especially important.
Tiny white mites are often introduced to terrariums via substrate or food. Most are harmless scavengers that can be lured into a jar baited with fish flakes. Please see the article linked below for further information.
Long-handled tongs – never fingers – should be used to remove uneaten food and water bowls from Centipede terrariums.
Centipedes are fast-moving and high strung, and will strike at any disturbance or vibration. Please ignore the ridiculous online videos showing people handling Giant Centipedes.
Centipede bites have caused fevers, dizziness, cardiac problems, breathing difficulties and fatalities. Before keeping Centipedes, discuss the matter with your physician and make certain that treatment will be available if needed. Be sure to explain that species identification may be impossible (i.e.6 species have been sold under a single trade name, and some species exhibit an array of different colors).