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The Centipede That Bites: Scolopendra Cingulata

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Use this article as a bug identification guide should you meet this Mediterranean creature in your travels, as the Scolopendra is a dangerous little pest and one to be avoided where at all possible.


The escolopendra, as it is known as in Spanish, has the full title of Scolopendra cingulata and lives in mountainous Mediterranean regions. It is often found under stones, rocks and fallen tree trunks where it rests during the day, only to come out at nighttime to feed.

Voracious feeders, they eat cricket, worms, spiders and moths, and have been known to devour young mice. They are not terribly sociable creatures and have been known to partake of a little cannibalism, occasionally eating each other.

Officially classified as centipedes, they have long bodies containing many flattened segments. Their colouring is brown to yellow or orange, depending on age and sex. Young ones are more brightly coloured, and females are darker (as well as larger) than males.

They grow to 10 - 15 cm long (4" - 6") and can live for up to an incredible 7 years!

Mating Habits

The Scolopendra hibernates during the winter months, and their breeding season starts in March or April.

The male spins a web and deposit his spermatophore in this web, and waits for a female to come along.

A spermatophore is a capsule or sac that contains spermatozoa for fertilising an egg.

The female takes the spermatophore and goes off with it, and uses it herself to fertilise her own eggs, without further input from the male. This process can take up to 1 hour.

One month later she produces 20 to 30 eggs, which she incubates for a further 1 to 2 months, during which time she wraps herself around them to protect them from predators.

If the female is disturbed at this time, it is not unknown for her to eat her own eggs or young. If they survive to adulthood, they start reproducing when they are a year old.

The Bite of the Scolopendra

The Scolopendra's main weapon is its bite which paralyses its prey.

It will also bite to defend itself if it is attacked.

Like the scorpion, it can lift its tail and its pincer-like claws on one end can deliver a very painful bite which can cause inflammation and pain in the affected limb.

Worldwide Distribution of Scolopendras

Scolopendras are to be found worldwide in the warmer regions of the world, including the southern aspects of North America, South America, Europe around the Mediterranean basin, Asia, Australia and Africa.

There are many different species of scolopendras, and some of the larger varieties can reach 12" or more in length, such as the Scolopendra gigantea as shown here. This creature lives in South America, Trinidad and Tobago and, according to Wikipedia, eats lizards, bats, frogs, mice and tarantulas. Probably humans too.

They say the bite is painful and can cause severe inflammation but is not fatal to humans. No, the actual wording is "unlikely to be fatal" which means of course that it probably is.

Some people actually keep these creatures as pets in a home terrarium!

Those'll be the same people who keep poisonous snakes and other such unlikely pets. Imagine kissing this thing goodnight, giving it a pet or cuddling up to it when you are feeling down.

I don't think so!

scolopendra cingulata

scolopendra cingulata

My Encounter With a Scolopendra

Look at the picture above, then imagine my story.

The grass was getting long in the garden, so I was out there with the lawnmower cutting it. I was wearing denim jeans, socks, and shoes.

I felt a tickle in my legs under my jeans, round about the knee. I immediately let go of the lawnmower and clasped my hands around my leg, but whatever was tickling was moving higher!

I then ran over the underbuild of the house and undid my jeans and pulled them down, and one of these centipedes jumped out from near the top of my leg. My heart was pounding. I was in a state of shock. What an ugly creature and to think it was crawling up my leg!!

It was only later when I described this insect to others that I discovered what it was. Everyone said I was so lucky it didn't bite me.

That is what pushed me to write this article. Be warned. Cut the grass with elastic bands round your ankles to stop this insect entering and climbing up your leg.

Oh...and mine was at least 6 inches long!


Jeff Muenster on April 19, 2019:

As a boy growing up in Spain, I caught and kept S. cingulata twice. I was also bitten once by each one from free-handling them; at that point, more or less, a daredevil tactic that quickly taught me that centipedes, in general, are highly unpredictable, and I never felt the need to chance the bite again with all the larger scolopendrids I kept in the ensuing years. Each bite was on an inside finger joint, with subsequent swelling and pain, but very localized. Can't imagine taking a hit from the larger tropical varieties, but they remain, in my opinion, very unique and interesting animals.

Laurel Souza on March 28, 2019:

I just recovered from a mean centipede bite. My entire foot swelled up from a bite on my little toe. After more than a week, which included nausea, fever and pain, it finally, but slowly became almost normal. It was a 5” or so brown centipede here in Hawaii. It was at least 5” .

Angelia on October 29, 2018:

A centipede bit me on the foot about an hour ago. Hope it isn't poisonous. I live in Las Vegas. I'm a little terrified. It still stings. It was in my house slipper. I had it on all night; was watching television and decided to get ready for bed. I went into the bathroom to wash my have. Felt something crawling on my foot. Slipped my slipper of and it's on my foot. I realized what it was and I knocked it off. It did want to move. Traumatized.

Dhiraj Maurya on December 27, 2017:

Maurya hi love

NickA on December 20, 2017:

I was bitten by a Scolopendra cingulata in Portugal this past summer and whilst it was painful (for about 10-20mins) and caused a little bit of local swelling I had no other ill effects. I would definitely recommend you do your best to avoid disturbing them but I wouldn’t be too afraid of them. They are one of the least venomous of the Scolopendra centipedes and unlikely to do any real damage - but definitely an animal to respect and avoid!

IzzyM (author) from UK on April 15, 2013:

If you have found one in your garden, there are sure to be more. Don't worry about them, just keep away and they will keep away from you. Be warned not to try and handle them.

Désolé, je ne parle pas français, mais utilisez Google translate pour comprendre -

fantomette2 on April 15, 2013:

au secours on en a une dans notre jardin elle est adulte elle fait quatre pouces environ !!!!!!!

IzzyM (author) from UK on July 30, 2011:

Don't be sorry for killing them lol, they are unwelcome intruders. And dangerous for you, the kids and any animals you may have in the house. I'm doing the Spanish thing and keeping small dogs which are great for keeping insects out - they eat them, but of course I would not want the dogs to get bitten by a scolopendra.

ameliejan from Alicante, Spain on July 30, 2011:

Two of these things came into my house last night. I sprayed them with cockroach spray and they died (sorry!) but now vigilantly checking everywhere to make sure there aren't any more. Yuck!

IzzyM (author) from UK on September 05, 2010:

OH I am so glad the baby did not get bitten! What a horrible experience!

MOM from Skopje on September 05, 2010:

A week ago, me, my husband, my three year old child and a 4 month old baby went to Greece, Sithonia. We found this terrible creature in the baby stroller. Imagine my reaction, i just grabbed the baby and screamed to my husband to get read of it. He was terrified to...After that we triple checked the baby stroller before putting the baby there.

IzzyM (author) from UK on August 14, 2010:

OMG that is awful! What an experience! Glad you're OK, but it might be good idea to visit doctor anyway. Tell him it was a scolopendra. He'll know what to do, I expect.

AnitaL on August 14, 2010:

I also found one in my bed during hols in Spain last week, a single bed after hubby was snoring in the double. I had sharp stabbing pain and jumped out of bed to see this centipede, screamed & got straight back into bed wih hubby.(he saying he would do anything to get me back in there, not taking me seriously until he saw it) Sore, worried it was something sinister but no problem except a week later back home, it flares up today and I now have patch the size of a 10p piece swollen. Told by pharmacist to watch it and if get bigger to go to GP. Thankfully on side of knee, I dread to think if anywhere else.

IzzyM (author) from UK on May 19, 2010:

OMG how awful!! Even if they didn't bite, I wouldn't want to find one of them in bed with me!

I have heard their bite is painful. Here's hoping it heals up on its own.

Steve on May 19, 2010:

I was asleep and got bitten last night in bed.. I woke up with a pain in my neck and caught the thing under my pillow. I kept it and after reading your piece and looking at the pictures I now know what bit me and I have in a container in the garden!!!! Thankyou!!

IzzyM (author) from UK on May 02, 2010:

Ooooh horrible! So long as it didn't bite you, that's the main thing :)

Cathy on May 02, 2010:

Now I know what it was that gave me the willies today... on the tennis court! My friend was opening a can of previously used tennis balls. He held out his hand to catch the balls as they rolled out, and out ran one of these things!!!!!!!! It was about 5 or 6" long, and hit the ground running. Icky poo. We have no idea how it got into that can, but, needless to say, we'll think of that now whenever we open a can of tennis balls!

John Harper from Malaga, Spain on April 02, 2010:

...and we find out that they are turkey basters as well!

Horrible things.... YUCK!


IzzyM (author) from UK on April 01, 2010:

I always throught centipedes were harmless but not this type! I think the common factor with the scolopendras are the colored body segments, or maybe just the segments with the pincer at the tail-end. And the size!

Gypsy Willow from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand on April 01, 2010:

Very interesting I think I saw something like this in Barbados. Not my fave sort of Creature!

IzzyM (author) from UK on April 01, 2010:

No comment LOL

selrach on April 01, 2010:

Sorry I can,t resist this comment.I bet it,s not the first time you've had a six inch creature inside your trousers

Springboard from Wisconsin on April 01, 2010:

That would send me reeling to be sure! One creature I absolutely abhor. Very sorry to hear one got up your pantleg. Yeesh!

IzzyM (author) from UK on April 01, 2010:

Are we still talking about scolopendras?? lol

They are rife in Greece as you no doubt know! In fact, the final photo above was taken on a Greek Island.

De Greek from UK on April 01, 2010:

Never came across a six inches thingammy before? And you live in Spain? You cannot be doing your garden often then?

IzzyM (author) from UK on April 01, 2010:

You never met one then? LOL I wish I hadn't, but menos mal - it didn't bite me!

expats from UK on April 01, 2010:

Doesn`t sound something I`d like to meet, that`s for sure.