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Giant Centipede Care, Feeding and Supplies…and Warnings!

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.  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.

Amazonian Giant centipede

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Katka Nemčoková

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.

Natural History

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.

Vietnamese Giant Centipede

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Yasunori Koide

The Terrarium

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.

Substrate

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.

Light

Red/black reptile night bulbs will allow you to watch your pets’ nocturnal activities.

Giant Sonoran Centipede

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by John

Heat

Most do well at temperatures of 72-85 F; please post below for individual species’ details.

Red/black reptile night bulbs, ceramic heaters or heat pads can be used to warm the terrarium.  All have a drying effect, so be sure to monitor humidity.

Humidity

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.

Companions

Centipedes are “pathologically unsociable” and must be housed alone.

Feeding

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 tongsnever fingers – should be used to remove uneaten food and water bowls from Centipede terrariums.

Health Considerations

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).

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable.  I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. 

Thanks, until next time,

Frank Indiviglio

 

Further Reading

Terrariums for Burrowing Invertebrates

Millipede Care and Natural History

Mites in Invertebrate Terrariums

 

8 comments

  1. avatar

    When I was a kid I’d love looking under rocks and finding bugs, but quickly learned that centipedes were NOT fun to play with. Didn’t like getting bit by them.

  2. avatar

    Same here, Paul..in fact I’m still poking under rocks and having fun! Even smaller species can break the skin, but lots to observe,….within last 10 yrs or so, a new species of centipede was discovered in Central park, and there’s many more out there unseen for sure, Best, frank

  3. avatar

    just godda say thank you for all this info I just got a haitian giant centipede and was wondering why he was spending so much time under the ground but now I know hes molting/shedding again thankyou

  4. avatar

    Hi Joseph,

    Thanks for taking the time to write in, glad the info is useful to you. Take care to keep the terrarium moist, as they are prone to dessication at this time. Please let me know if you need anything, a happy and healthy new year to you and yours, Frank

  5. avatar

    just wondering how offtin should I spray his terarium to keep it at about 75% humidity? and how much heat?

  6. avatar

    Hello,

    Misting will depend upon what type of heat you are using (bulbs and ceramic heaters tend to dry out the substrate), the ambient humidity of the room, depth of substrate etc. It’s generally fine if you keep the substrate slightly moist and provide a cave stocked with damp sphagnum as a retreat. If you want to measure exactly, you can use a small hygrometer..

    The temperature can range from 75-85 F, with an average of 78-80 being fine.

    Best, Frank

  7. avatar

    cuz the people at the reptile shop told me to use a 50 watt bulb with a small lamp so on payday I will go and get a hygrometer so I can keep the little guy healthy and happy and again thank you so much for all this info

  8. avatar

    Hi Joseph,

    My pleasure; it’s difficult to make recommendations concerning bulb size etc as there are so many variables. Use a small aquarium thermometer to check the temperature so that you’ll know if the 50 wt is enough, too much, etc. You can see some options here, best, Frank

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About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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