How To Identify A Pacific NW Centipede And Are They Dangerous?

June 1, 2023
Identify A Pacific NW Centipede

The Pacific Northwest (PNW) region of the United States is known for its diverse and unique wildlife. Among the fascinating creatures found in this area are centipedes, which can be both intriguing and intimidating to encounter. By understanding these remarkable arthropods better, you’ll be better equipped to appreciate their role in the ecosystem and coexist with them harmoniously.

Pacific Northwest Centipedes

Centipedes are members of the arthropod class Chilopoda and are characterized by their elongated bodies, numerous pairs of legs, and prominent antennae. They belong to the subphylum Myriapoda, which also includes millipedes. Pacific Northwest centipedes are typically found in moist environments such as forests, gardens, and damp basements. These areas provide them with the necessary humidity and shelter to thrive.

Identifying Pacific Northwest Centipedes

Pacific Northwest centipedes exhibit several distinct physical features that aid in their identification.

Body Length: Most Pacific Northwest centipedes range in size from 1 to 4 inches in length, with some larger species reaching up to 6 inches. Their elongated bodies are segmented, with each segment bearing a pair of legs.

Leg Count: Centipedes possess numerous pairs of long, jointed legs, with each body segment typically bearing a single pair. The number of legs can vary, ranging from 30 to over 300 pairs, depending on the species. The abundance of legs gives centipedes their characteristic swift movement.

Coloration: Pacific Northwest centipedes often have a dark brown or reddish-brown coloration, which aids in their camouflage among the forest floor or leaf litter. This natural coloration allows them to blend seamlessly with their surroundings.

Antennae: Centipedes have long, sensitive antennae that help them navigate their surroundings and locate prey. These antennae, along with their numerous legs, are crucial identifying features.

Common Pacific Northwest Centipede Species

In the Pacific Northwest, several centipede species are commonly encountered. The following species are particularly notable:

Lithobius Forficatus– The most frequently encountered centipedes in the PNW belong to the Lithobius genus. They have slender bodies, and numerous legs, and can grow up to 2 inches in length. Lithobius centipedes are usually brown or reddish-brown in color. They are often found in moist habitats like forests and gardens.

Lithobius Forficatus

Ryszard @ Flickr

Scolopocryptops– This genus comprises larger centipedes that can measure up to 4 inches long. They have a robust body, and their coloration can range from reddish-brown to black. Scolopocryptops centipedes are often found in moist environments like gardens and woodlands. These larger centipedes may appear more intimidating but are generally harmless to humans.\


Nancy Magnusson @ Flickr

Scutigera Coleoptrata– More commonly known as house centipedes are a yellowish-brown, distinctively shaped centipede with up to 15 pairs of extremely long legs and are extremely fast. House centipedes are usually found inside homes in damp areas like basements, crawl spaces, cellars, and bathrooms, especially in winter, when they move indoor. Their diet consists of cockroach nymphs, spiders, silverfish, crickets, bedbugs, flies, moths, and earwigs, many of which are considered household pests.

Scutigera coleoptrata

Mantis Xxi @ Flickr

Are Pacific Northwest Centipedes Dangerous?

Pacific Northwest centipedes may evoke fear due to their appearance, but it is important to understand the potential dangers they pose. While they possess venomous glands, their primary purpose is to incapacitate their prey rather than to harm humans. Centipede venom is primarily used to immobilize insects and small invertebrates, which are their preferred food sources. However, centipedes can deliver a painful bite if they feel threatened or provoked.

Although their bites are rarely serious, they can cause localized pain, redness, and swelling. It is important to note that individual reactions to centipede bites may vary, and individuals with allergies or sensitivities to insect bites may experience more pronounced symptoms. If bitten, it is advisable to clean the affected area with soap and water and apply a cold compress to reduce swelling and alleviate pain. Seeking medical attention is recommended if the symptoms worsen or persist.

While Pacific Northwest centipedes are not considered dangerous in the sense of posing a severe threat to human health, it is still essential to exercise caution and respect their space. Avoid handling centipedes with bare hands, especially if you are uncertain about their species or if they appear agitated. It is best to observe them from a safe distance and appreciate their unique characteristics and role in the ecosystem.

Coexistence and Conservation

Pacific Northwest centipedes play an important role in the natural balance of the ecosystem. They are efficient predators that help control populations of insects and other small invertebrates, contributing to the overall health of their habitat. By understanding and respecting their presence, we can coexist with these remarkable arthropods without causing harm to ourselves or to them.

Creating a centipede-friendly environment involves maintaining suitable habitat conditions. This includes preserving moisture levels in gardens and avoiding excessive use of pesticides that may harm both centipedes and their prey. By embracing a holistic approach to pest control and fostering a balanced ecosystem, we can encourage the presence of beneficial organisms like centipedes.

Pacific Northwest centipedes are intriguing creatures that inhabit the diverse ecosystems of the region. By understanding their physical characteristics and common species, individuals can better identify and appreciate these arthropods. While Pacific Northwest centipedes are not considered dangerous to humans, their bites can cause discomfort and should be treated with care. By respecting their natural habitats and coexisting harmoniously, we can continue to admire the remarkable biodiversity of the Pacific Northwest. Let us strive to foster a deeper understanding and appreciation for these fascinating creatures as we embrace the rich natural heritage of the Pacific Northwest.

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