The Vietnamese Centipede is a large, aggressive species with a nasty attitude and a serious bite!
The Vietnamese Centipede Scolopendra subspinipes is deceptively intriguing, because it is a beautiful arthropod. They can be quite variable in color. Most are a brown to reddish brown with yellow to yellow-orange legs, but they come in many other colors and color patterns too.
These centipedes are also quite large, growing from about 4″ to 8″ (10 – 20 cm) in length. Some individuals will even reach a giant size of up to 10″ or more. Besides being attractive, Vietnamese centipedes are hardy and easy to keep. They make a very nice addition to the collection of an experienced keeper, but they are not recommended for a beginner.
Despite their good looks and impressive size, the Vietnamese Giant Centipedes are nervous, aggressive, and fast. These are some of the least expensive centipedes available as pets, but they are dangerous with a very painful bite. Their venom is of medical concern as just one centipede bite can cause pain and serious swelling in humans, and even worse for some individuals. Death from a centipede bite from this species is almost unheard of, but it has reportedly happened on one occasion to a child in the Philippines. You want to exercise care with this centipede. We do not recommend handling any centipedes.
Scolopendra subspinipes currently contains eight described subspecies. These centipedes are not restricted to the country of Vietnam, as its name in the hobby suggests. The Vietnamese Centipede is found throughout the world’s tropical and subtropical areas, especially in Southeast Asia.
For more Information about centipede care, see:
Centipede and Millipede Care: Keeping Them as Pets
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Arthropoda
- Class: Chilopoda
- Order: Scolopendromorpha
- Family: Scolopendridae
- Genus: Scolopendra
- Species: subspinipes
- Scolopendra subspinipes subspinipes Leach, 1815
- Scolopendra subspinipes de haani – Brandt, 1840
- Scolopendra subspinipes japonica – L. Koch, 1878
- Scolopendra subspinipes mutilans – L. Koch, 1878
- Scolopendra subspinipes fulgurans – Bucherl, 1946
- Scolopendra subspinipes gastroforeata – Muralevicz, 1913
- Scolopendra subspinipes piceoflava – Attems, 1934
- Scolopendra subspinipes cingulatoides – Attems, 1938
The Vietnamese Centipede Scolopendra subspinipes was first described by Leach in 1815. These centipedes are found from all over the world. Many originate from a wide range across southeast Asia, but they are also found in Japan, Australia, West Africa, South America in Brazil, and are also found in Hawaii. Other common names this centipede is known by are Orange-legged Jungle Centipede and Asian Forest Centipede.
These are terrestrial invertebrates, mostly from subtropics and tropical zones. They 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..
There are eight described subspecies, but besides the nominate species Scolopendra s. subspinipes, only a few are seen in the pet trade and referred to with common names. These include the nominate Orange-legged Jungle Centipede or Asian Forest Centipede Scolopendra s. subspinipes, Chinese Red Head Centipede Scolopendra s. mutilans, Japanese Centipede Scolopendra s. japonica, and Malaysian Cherry Red Centipede Scolopendra s. de haani.
The Vietnamese Giant Centipedes grow up to about 8″ (20 cm). As adults, all the subspecies of S. subspinipes range in size from 4″ (10 Cm), like Scolopendra s. japonica, and on up to 8″ (20 cm) like Scolopendra s. subspinipes. All subspecies of S. subspinipes have 18 to 19 segments on their antennae with the first six smooth. There are three spines located on the prefemur of the terminal legs. They are quite variable in color, but most specimens are brown to reddish brown with yellow to yellow-orange legs.
Descriptions of the better known subspecies:
- Orange-legged Jungle Centipede or Asian Forest Centipede Scolopendra s. subspinipes
This is the nominate species, it is brown to reddish-brown with an orange head and legs. Widespread throughout the tropics and is found in Africa, Asia, and even Hawaii.
- Malaysian Cherry Red Centipede Scolopendra s. de haani
This centipede is primarily a reddish brown with a red head and red legs. It is found in Southeast Asia and are commonly available.
- Chinese Red Head Centipede Scolopendra s. mutilans
The Chinese Red-headed Centipede has a black body, red first segment, and yellow legs. It is found in China and Japan. This species, though somewhat uncommon in the trade, that has been farmed in a communal setting for many years in Asian countries.
- Japanese Centipede Scolopendra s. japonica
This species is brown with blue and white banded legs. It is the rarest subspecies in captive collections and in nature is found only in Japan.
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:
The ideal temperature range is 80° to 85° F and with a humidity of 80 to 85%. 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. Once settled in, it will be very active, and will eat allot just before molting. 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. Yet even during the day they tend to stay on the surface rather than burrowing, and they don’t spend much time hiding. When disturbed they will often attack and bite at anything, or move very quickly trying to escape.
We do not recommend handling any centipedes. The Vietnamese Centipedes are nervous and aggressive. When disturbed they will often attack and bite at anything, or move very quickly trying to escape. 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 Scolopendra species.
There is no copulation for centipedes to reproduce. Rahter 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.
Vietnamese 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.
- Animal-World Resources: Reptiles, Amphibians, and Land Invertebrates
- Orin McMonigle, Giant Centipedes: The Enthusiasts Handbook, Elytra & Antenna 2004
- C. Sandefer, The Giant Centipedes of the Genus Scolopendra, Privately published. Oklahoma City, OK.
- J. G. E. Lewis, The Biology of Centipedes, Cambridge University Press 1981
- J. L. Cloudsley-Thompson, Spiders, Scorpions, Centipedes, and Mites,.Pergamon Press 1968
- R. F. Lawrence, The Centipedes and Millipedes of Africa, A guide, A. A. Balkema Capetown, Rotterdam, 1984