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A picture of a Common Desert Centipede found crawling on the floor of one of the utility room of one of our customers.

The Desert Centipede – FAQs

Sooo…centipedes. The ultimate creepy crawlies. You’ve found one in your home and it looks creepy and dangerous – but is it? In this article, we will discuss the Common Desert Centipede specifically, a.k.a the Tiger Centipede, Banded Desert Centipede, Sonoran Desert Centipede, or Scolopendra Polymorpha (if you wanna get nerdy). We will cover its characteristics, hazards, and how it compares to a couple of its other popular cousins, the Giant Desert Centipede and the House Centipede.

Are centipedes insects?

No, centipedes are technically classified as myriapods due to their long bodies and multiple legs. However, just like their other non-insect buddies (i.e., spiders and scorpions), they can still be pests and be cause for concern if found within your home or yard.

What does the Common Desert Centipede look like?

Centipedes have an unmistakably…some say “exotic”, some say “creepy”…appearance. Common Desert Centipedes come in a variety of colors, but they have several characteristics in common. They usually measure approximately 5 inches in length (give or take), have around 20 or so pairs of short legs, and have a “tiger-stripe” coloration pattern on their bodies. That is, each section is usually punctuated with a dark horizontal line mimicking the appearance of tiger stripes.

Where does the Common Desert Centipede live?

They are found all throughout Arizona and beyond – and despite their name, they aren’t restricted to deserts either. They are nocturnal, so they hideout during the day burrowing in dirt, hiding under rocks, and ducking into holes and crevices. Around your yard and house, they may take refuge under potted plants, garden hoses, piles of trash or debris, in your cupboards, under your furniture, in piles of clothes – even in your bed!

Are centipedes poisonous?

Centipedes are not poisonous, but they are venomous. They are not poisonous because there is no harm in eating them once they have been properly killed and prepared (although we can’t imagine why you would want to). But they ARE venomous because they are equipped to inject venom. However, some species of centipede are more dangerous than others. Many people think centipedes bite, but they don’t! They sting – a sort of “dual sting” delivered by the centipede’s first pair of legs pinching together, both poking into the victim and injecting venom.

Though all centipedes are capable of stinging, some species are too small or too harmless to be of concern to humans. But the Common Desert Centipede is one of the exceptions. The stings are very painful and highly venomous, but not usually fatal in healthy, non-allergic adults. However, if you have been stung and are concerned about your body’s reaction to it, get medical attention immediately! Especially if the victim is a child, an elderly adult, or an allergic or immunocompromised adult.

Symptoms of a Desert Centipede’s sting include severe pain around the area of the sting, two small puncture wounds, and swelling. More extreme reactions may include a headache, nausea, vomiting, an accelerated heartrate, and even tissue necrosis.

Here is an awesome amateur video that features a variety of centipedes, the first of which is the Common Desert Centipede. (Please note – toward the end of the video, the handler demonstrates handling one of the centipedes. We STRONGLY discourage doing this due to the intensity of the pain their stings deliver, and the toxicity of their venom.)


What do Desert Centipedes eat?

Desert Centipedes are carnivorous – they eat insects, reptiles, rodents, and literally anything else they can tackle – including other centipedes! They can also be scavengers, feeding on corpses of insects and small animals that they stumble upon.

How do Desert Centipedes reproduce?

Male Desert Centipedes lay sperm sacs for females to take up. Once fertilized, the females lay eggs in soil and rotting organic material. Females provide some care initially to their young, but only for a few days. After that, the babies venture out on their own.

How do I prevent getting Common Desert Centipedes in my house?

As with most pests, the best way to prevent them from coming into your yard and home is by keeping it all clear of clutter and debris, raking and maintaining your yard, and sealing all doors and windows. A monthly professional pest control service will also help tremendously by eliminating their food source (that is, other insects), making your home and yard less attractive to them in the first place, AND by exterminating the centipedes themselves that mosey on into your hard and home.

Are there other types of centipedes in Arizona?

Yes – centipedes come in a huge variety of species, sizes, shapes, colors – and degree of hazard to humans! For example, the Giant Desert Centipede closely resembles the Common Desert Centipede we’ve been discussing here. It’s roughly an inch or two longer, may have different coloring (depending on the specimen), and has more potent venom.

On the other hand – the House Centipede, also found all around Arizona and the US, is much smaller (approximately an inch-and-a-half in size at most), has MUCH longer legs, and is generally harmless to humans – not because it doesn’t sting, but because its “pinching” legs are way too small and weak to puncture human skin in most instances.

One final note – all centipedes are excellent “natural” exterminators. They will happily feed on any bugs they find in your home. The question is, do you want them for the job?

If you have further questions about centipedes, pests in general, or our pest control services – give us a shout! (Or a note.) You can also check out this awesome article about Desert Centipedes for more information. And don’t forget to check out the rest of our blog for articles about other pests!