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Are centipedes poisonous if eaten?

Centipedes are arthropods that belong to the class Chilopoda. There are around 3,300 known species of centipedes worldwide, with body lengths ranging from under 1 inch to over 1 foot. Centipedes are predators that mainly eat small invertebrates like insects, spiders, earthworms, and millipedes. They hunt prey using their poison claws called forcipules.

Are centipedes venomous?

Yes, all centipedes are venomous and can inject toxin into prey to subdue and kill it. The venom is produced in glandular sacs connected to a pair of claws called forcipules, which are modified legs that centipedes use to grasp prey. The forcipules are located on the first body segment behind the head and can retract into slots in the head.

When a centipede attacks prey, it skewers the victim with its forcipules and injects venom simultaneously. The venom contains a mix of toxins including histamine, cardiopulmonary toxins, and cytolytic peptides. The combination of toxins breaks down tissues and attacks the heart and nervous system.

What effects does centipede venom have?

The venom from centipedes can cause various effects in humans and animals including:

  • Intense pain at the injection site
  • Swelling and redness around the wound
  • Nausea and dizziness
  • Headaches and abdominal cramps
  • Anaphylactic shock in those allergic
  • Tissue necrosis around the bite
  • Elevated heart rate and blood pressure
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Death in rare cases

The severity depends on the volume of venom injected and the size of the centipede. Bites from large tropical centipedes are extremely painful and can cause severe symptoms.

Are centipedes poisonous if eaten?

Yes, centipedes can be poisonous if eaten. Centipedes produce the same venom whether they bite defensively or are ingested. If a live centipede is swallowed, it can inject venom from inside the mouth, throat or stomach.

There are documented cases of people being poisoned after consuming raw or undercooked centipedes. In one case in Thailand, a patient developed severe pain, muscle spasms, nausea, and dizziness after eating undercooked centipedes. He had to be hospitalized and recovered after a few days.

Cooking centipedes before eating will break down the proteins in the venom, making it less toxic. However, eating raw or undercooked centipedes is not recommended due to the risk of envenomation.

What species of centipedes are most dangerous?

The most dangerous centipedes are large tropical species that can inject more venom. Some of the most venomous include:

  • Giant desert centipede – Found in the southern US and Mexico, it can grow over 1 foot long.
  • Amazonian giant centipede – One of the largest centipedes at over 1 foot long, found in South America.
  • Vietnamese centipede – Up to 20 cm long, causes extreme pain if bitten.
  • Chinese redhead centipede – Aggressive species up to 11 inches long, very painful bite.
  • Blue ringed centipede – A small but highly venomous species from Hawaii and the Caribbean.

As a general rule, the larger the centipede, the more venom it can inject and the more dangerous the bite. But even small house centipedes can cause reactions in those allergic.

What to do if bitten by a centipede

If you are bitten by a centipede, you should take these steps:

  1. Wash the bite area with soap and water to help prevent infection
  2. Apply an ice pack to reduce swelling and slow venom absorption
  3. Keep the bitten area immobilized and lower than the heart if possible
  4. Take over-the-counter pain medication as needed
  5. Monitor symptoms and watch for signs of allergic reaction
  6. Seek medical care if pain is severe or worrisome symptoms develop

Let a doctor know you were bitten by a centipede, even if symptoms seem mild at first. In rare cases antivenom treatment may be needed for bites from highly venomous tropical centipedes.

Fatalities from centipede bites

Deaths from centipede bites are extremely rare. There are very few confirmed reports of human fatalities. Potential mechanisms of death include:

  • Anaphylactic shock – In those allergic to the venom
  • Cardiotoxicity – Venom disrupting heart rhythms
  • Respiratory failure – Paralysis of breathing muscles

Those at highest risk include small children, the elderly, and those with heart conditions. Seek immediate emergency care if bitten by a large centipede and you develop signs of anaphylaxis, breathing problems, or abnormal heart rate.

Eating centipedes in traditional medicine

Some cultures eat centipedes or use them in traditional medicine, including in China, Africa, and South America. Beliefs about health benefits include:

  • Treating asthma and bronchitis
  • Relieving joint pain and arthritis
  • Promoting circulation and heart health
  • Enhancing libido and sexual performance

However, there is no scientific evidence that eating centipedes provides health benefits. Due to risks of envenomation, consuming centipedes is not medically recommended.

Cooking centipedes to remove toxicity

To remove toxicity when cooking centipedes:

  • Boil centipedes for at least 5 minutes to denature venom proteins
  • Saute or stir fry over high heat for at least 3 minutes
  • Roast in oven above 200°F for over 10 minutes
  • Remove head and legs where venom glands are located before cooking
  • Avoid eating raw or undercooked centipedes

Proper cooking can help make eating centipedes safer, but does not guarantee safety. Consuming centipedes is generally not recommended.

Keeping centipedes out of your home

To deter centipedes from entering your home:

  • Seal cracks in foundation and windows
  • Install door sweeps under exterior doors
  • Trim landscaping away from home exterior
  • Use desiccant dusts around baseboards
  • Fix plumbing leaks and moisture sources
  • Reduce clutter to limit hiding places

Insecticide sprays and baits can also be applied by pest control professionals. Keeping your home dry is key, as centipedes prefer damp areas.

Centipede bite treatment for pets

If your pet is bitten by a centipede, you should:

  • Wash the bite area to prevent infection
  • Apply ice pack to reduce swelling
  • Monitor for signs of allergic reaction
  • Give Benadryl if approved by your vet
  • Seek veterinary care if symptoms concern you

Signs of a reaction include swelling, hives, vomiting, difficulty breathing, or collapse. Seek immediate vet care if these develop.


Centipedes can inject toxic venom when they bite, so they can cause poisoning if eaten. Their venom produces severe pain and can potentially be fatal in rare cases. Toxic effects can occur if a live centipede is swallowed. While some cultures eat centipedes, they are best cooked thoroughly to denature toxins before consuming. Due to risks of reactions, eating centipedes is generally not medically recommended.