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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

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Image Credit: Manzeal Khanal, taken at the Texas A&M Agrilife Research Center, Uvalde, TX
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Centipedes this large creep people out for good reason: they can hurt.

Updated: 01/03/2022; 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.©InsectIdentification.org

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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
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          Genus: Scolopendra
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            Species: heros

Identifying Information

Size, Colors, Features
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 (0.78" to 7.99")
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

Typical Size Between 20mm (0.8in) and 203mm (8.0in)
Lo: 20mm
Md: 111.5mm
Hi: 203mm

Territorial Map*

U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Giant Red-headed Centipede may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the Giant Red-headed Centipede. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.
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