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The Giant Desert Centipede
is a large species of centipede found in North America. They average about 6.5 inches in length, but can reach up to 8". They are very colorful and many keepers believe they are one of the most beautiful of the centipede species. They are the prize of many collectors and make a wonderful showpiece in a display.
These desert centipedes range from the southwest United States to northern mexico. There are three subspecies of Giant Desert Centipede. They vary in coloration and distribution. Perhaps the most familiar is the Giant Red-headed Centipede
Scolopendra h. castaneiceps
, as pictured above. This species has a beautiful black body contrasted with a red head and yellow legs. The other two subspecies are quite attractive as well. The Giant Black-tailed Centipede (Blue-tailed Centipede)
Scolopendra h. heros
is all yellowish in color, but with a contrasting blue or dark blue, almost black tail. The Giant Arizona Desert Centipede (Black-headed Centipede)
Scolopendra h. arizonensis
has a black head and tail, contrasted with a red or dark orange body and yellow legs
The Giant Desert Centipedes are hardy and easy to keep. This is a relatively calm species of centipede and its venom is not considered deadly. It is handled by experienced keepers, but it can give a very painful bite. We do not recommend handling any centipedes.
The bite of all large centipedes are potentially medically serious, especially so to small children.
The Giant Desert Centipede
was first described by Girard in 1853. The Giant Desert Centipede is found in the southern United States and in northern Mexico. Other common names this centipede is known by are Giant Sonoran Centipede and Giant North American Centipede. These are terrestrial invertebrates that live under stones and wood, in crevices, and in litter and soil. They will burrow some, staying underground on warm days and emerging in cloudy weather. They are carnivorous and feed on insects, lizards, frogs, and rodents in the wild..
Three subspecies were named by G. Attems in 1931. They are the Giant Red-headed Centipede
Scolopendra h. castaneiceps
, Giant Black-tailed Centipede, Blue-tailed Centipede
Scolopendra h. heros
, and the Giant Arizona Desert Centipede, Giant Black-headed Centipede
Scolopendra h. arizonensis
is not on the IUCN Red List for Endangered Species.
The Giant Desert Centipedes have 26 to 30 segments (generally 26), and the first three to five segments are smooth. The head is finely punctuated with two faint sulci, or grooves. The first pair of legs have two tarsal spines and all of the rest have only one. They can reach 7 to 8" (18 - 20 cm) as adults.
Descriptions of the three subspecies of Giant Desert Centipede:
Giant Black-tailed CentipedePhoto Courtesy: David Brough
Giant Arizona Desert Centipede
Giant Black-headed Centipede Scolopendra h. arizonensis
This is a red or dark orange centipede with yellow legs and a black head and tail. It is found in Arizona and Mexico. Some of the Arizona specimens have black bands running across the tergites, parallel to the legs.
Giant Black-tailed Centipede
Blue-tailed Centipede Scolopendra h. heros
This is a yellow centipede with light yellow legs and a medium to dark blue tail. It is found in New Mexico, east to Texas and northern Mexico.
Giant Red-headed Centipede Scolopendra h. castaneiceps
This is a jet black centipede with a red head and yellow legs. It is found in New Mexico across the southwestern United States and as far north as Kansas and east to Georgia..
Food and Feeding
Small juveniles will eat pinhead crickets or other small insects. As adults they will feed on prey that is not larger than themselves, including large crickets, cockroaches, and even pinky or fuzzy mice. It is generally suggested however, that you don't feed prey that is more than half the length of the centipede. Feed crickets and roaches once a week. Once a month feed a small pink mouse. Keep in mind that overfed invertebrates, and especially overfed centipedes, seem to die much sooner than those that are kept "lean and mean".
A large enclosure that offers plenty of floor space and a deep (4"+) substrate of damp sand and peat moss is ideal. This species will spend most of its time buried in the substrate with only the tips of the back legs or its antennae above ground. Also offer a few well-placed pieces of cork bark, bark, or a sturdy slate shelter to keep specimens settled.
Temperature and humidity requirements:
As typical of a desert species, the Giant Desert Centipede will do fine in the 80° to 85° F range and with a humidity of 50 to 65%. For more information on environment setup, see: Centipede and Millipede Care
A good habit to get into is cleaning up any uneaten prey items the day after feeding your centipede as decaying organic matter commonly attracts mites, fungus, mold and other potentially harmful organisms into the enclosure. If your pet has recently molted, remove uneaten prey items immediately. Newly molted centipedes are vulnerable until their exoskeletons hardens.
When first introduce to its new enclosure, the centipede will often explore the entire area. But once settled in, it will spend most of its time buried in the substrate. All you will see are the tips of the back legs or its antennae above ground. Though they remain hidden by day, the enclosure can be fitted with a red or blue bulb to be turned on at night to watch the centipede foraging for prey and exploring its surrounding.
We do not recommend handling any centipedes. Despite photos of "daredevils" handling large specimens, all Scolopendra are capable of delivering a very painful venomous "pinch". Large specimens should be considered medically serious and some people with reactions to insect venom and those with small children should be very cautious when keeping large
There is no copulation for centipedes to reproduce. Rather centipede males deposit a spermatophore for the female to find and take up, which then fertilizes the eggs. For species In temperate areas eggs are laid in the spring and summer, but in subtropical and tropical areas they seem to be laid most anytime of year.
Giant Desert Centipedes have relatively few common health issues as long as they are fed properly, housed in an escape proof enclosure with proper humidity levels, and the cage is kept free of decaying organic matter. Centipedes will feed on a variety of prey including grasshoppers, moths, worms, and even small vertebrate prey, but be cautious of any prey that is captured in nature as they may be carriers of internal parasites. Keep in mind that overfed invertebrates, and especially overfed centipedes, seem to die much sooner than those that are kept "lean and mean". Newly molted centipedes are vulnerable until its exoskeleton hardens, so should have uneaten prey removed immediately.
The Giant Desert Centipedeis commonly available in the spring and summer from invertebrate collectors in the Southwestern United States. From these collectors they get spread to dealers throughout the country and they are usually inexpensive. They are hardy and easy to keep and will no doubt be captive-bred in the future.
Andrea Doubleday - 2013-07-15 I've had a number of these guys in my yard and house here in Bisbee, Az. Last summer I had a huge fellow dragging a partially eaten mouse across my yard... grossed me out completely. This site has changed my thinking, I've always tried to kill them on sight. Learning that they are good for my environment.. ie., they eat scorpions (lots of them around!), mice and roaches.. I'll let them live outside the house, but inside the house? Sorry, that's too close.
Ryan - 2010-04-29 I don't have time or room to go into detail about the article and comments left here, so I will have to keep it brief. These can inflict a serious bite, but only as a defensive mechanism, they aren't aggressive. They are good for your environment, and should be left alone outside if possible. However, they are dangerous to small dogs, elderly, and children. If you find one and are worried about bites, but do not want to kill it, catch it and email me and I will pick it up, and send it to a breeder, scientist, or zoo. They are sold in lps for less than $20, you could maybe sell them for $7. I cannot pay for them though. This is done as a hobby and I lose money on cages, shipping material, feeders, and gas. So if you want to save their life, I will take them, but I will not pay. The high price mentioned below is generally only gotten overseas where you are required to have thousands of dollars in permits to ship them, so they are not worth $75! You can get more than $7 if you are well known in the right circles and regularly frequent the right websites, but it is hobby, education, and research for most of us, so don't expect to get much for them. You can email me for pick up @ Nomadinexile@hushmail.com
Ryan - 2010-05-10 There are a few color patterns worth a bit more. If you live around Medicine Lodge in Kansas, please contact me if you can find them, we can work something out. Also, I would be able to get a bit more for the red and black stripe form from Southeast corner of AZ, Northwest corner of NM. These are only found in the Peloncillo mountains and the Pedregosa mountains that I'm aware of. You can contact me for more information, but keep in mind, that you aren't going to get rich collecting centipedes!