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Giant Red-headed Centipede (Scolopendra heros)


Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Giant Red-headed Centipede.




Centipedes this large creep people out for good reason: they can hurt.



 Updated: 6/17/2020; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ¬©www.InsectIdentification.org




The Giant Red-headed Centipede is one of the longest and largest centipedes in North America. It is a type of Bark Centipede and has a flat, low profile and a highly flexible body that allows it to fit in tight spaces. It comes in many color combinations that are almost always vibrant and bright, serving as a warning to those interested in picking it up, or letting in crawl on body parts. A popular combination has a red head, a black body, and orange or yellow legs. Another variation has a black head, and orange body, and pale yellow legs. Some are even green and yellow, while others are almost completely black or have blue bands. The rear end has two fleshy long tails and is easy to mistake for a head, hopefully luring predators to attack it instead, allowing the centipede to bite in defense. All of them have antennae on the head and a strong mouthpart that can painfully bite skin and inject a venomous toxin that causes burning and swelling. The thick body is robust and sports one pair of legs on each chunky segment. These legs are pointy and can create tiny incisions in skin when walking over it, simultaneously leaking a chemical that can also cause redness and irritation. A bite or poke is not considered life threatening, but young children and the elderly are susceptible to stronger reactions. Keep a safe distance from it and avoid physical contact with the centipede. It is able to elevate part of its body to catch flying prey, so it can rise up off the ground if it wants.

This native centipede is at home in the southwestern and south-central U.S. states, and northern states in Mexico. It is often seen wandering the desert ground, woodland floors, and around rough scrub and chaparral where it looks for rodents, other invertebrates, amphibians, and even reptiles to eat. It goes by many different common names and many reflect what state it is found in. Females lay eggs and then curl around them, guarding them until they hatch. As young centipedes grow, they add segments to their length, molting the old, shorter exoskeleton. It is more active on cloudy days, and remains cool and under cover of leaf litter, rocks, or debris on warm days.


General Characteristics
Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Insect stinger icon


Taxonomic Hierarchy
Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Chilopoda
      Order: Scolopendromorpha
        Family: Scolopendridae [ View More ]
          Genus: Scolopendra [ View More ]
            Species: heros
Identifying Information
Size, Colors, Descriptors
Scientific Name: Scolopendra heros
Other Name(s): Giant Desert Centipede; Sonoran Centipede; Texas Red-headed Centipede; Texas Black-tailed Centipede; Arizona Desert Centipede
Category: Centipede
Size (Adult; Length): 20mm to 203mm (0.78in to 7.92in)
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: black; red; yellow; orange; green; blue
Descriptors: red head; green and yellow head; black body; orange body; red body; orange legs; yellow legs; big; huge; long; two tails; yellwo tails; red tails; painful; stinging
Relative Size Comparison
Lo: 20mm | Hi: 203mm
Territorial Reach (A-to-Z)
U.S., Canada, and Mexico
Alabama
Alaska
Arizona
Arkansas
California
Colorado
Connecticut
Delaware
Florida
Georgia
Hawaii
Idaho
Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Kansas
Kentucky
Louisiana
Maine
Maryland
Massachusetts
Michigan
Minnesota
Mississippi
Missouri
Montana
Nebraska
Nevada
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Ohio
Oklahoma
Oregon
Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
Tennessee
Texas
Utah
Vermont
Virginia
Washington
West Virginia
Wisconsin
Wyoming
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Alberta
British Columbia
Manitoba
New Brunswick
Newfoundland and Labrador
Nova Scotia
Ontario
Prince Edward Island
Quebec
Saskatchewan
Mexican National Flag Graphic
Mexico
Note: An insect's reach is not limited by lines drawn on a map and therefore species may appear in areas, regions and/or states beyond those listed above as they are driven by environmental factors (such as climate change), available food supplies and mating patterns.
Territorial Map
U.S., Canada, and Mexico
Alaska  
Hawaii  
Prince Edward Is.  
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Territory map graphic of the country of Mexico
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