Centipede Envenomation

Updated: Oct 27, 2015
  • Author: Robert L Norris, MD; Chief Editor: Scott H Plantz, MD, FAAEM  more...
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Overview

Background

Approximately 3500 species of centipedes are found in the class Chilopoda, phylum Arthropoda. They are among the less well-studied arthropods. Centipedes are elongated multisegmented arthropods with a single pair of legs on each body segment. They are distributed widely, being present on every continent except Antarctica, and are especially common in warm temperate and tropical regions. Centipedes spend much of their time underground or in rock piles and usually come out at night to actively hunt their prey. They are capable of very fast movement when exposed. The most dangerous species belong to the genus Scolopendra, with the largest members (Scolopendra gigantea) reaching lengths of 26 cm. See the image below.

Giant desert centipede. Photo by Michael Cardwell. Giant desert centipede. Photo by Michael Cardwell.
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Pathophysiology

The venom delivery apparatus consists of a modified pair of front legs (ie, forcipules) just behind the mandibles. Venom is produced in a gland, generally located at the base of each forcipule, and is injected through ducts when the forcipules are driven into the victim's tissues.

Centipede venoms have not been studied as extensively as many spider and scorpion venoms, but they do contain a wide array of components, including 5-hydroxytryptamine (serotonin), histamine, metalloproteases, hyaluronidase, pore-forming toxins, CAP proteins, and ion channel modulators. [1, 2] In addition, some centipede venoms may cause endogenous release of histamine.

In addition to venom, some species exude defensive substances from glands found along the body segments. These secretions are usually nontoxic to humans, although at least one species of the genus Otostigmus secretes a vesicating substance.

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Epidemiology

Frequency

While good data are sparse, in some regions of the world, centipede stings are not infrequent. Medeiros et al reported 98 such stings presenting to Hospital Vital Brazil, Butantan Institute, São Paulo, Brazil, between 1990 and 2007. [3]

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