Scolopendra gigantea

Geographic Range

Scolopendra gigantea inhabits tropical and subtropical forests in northern South America.


Since they have no waxy covering on their cuticle, centipedes are limited to living in humid environments, and can usually be found in soil, leaf litter, or rotten wood.

Physical Description

Centipedes are dorsoventrally flattened, and their bodies are divided into well-marked segments, each of which is flattened. Each body segment has a pair of legs, which means that there is always an odd number of leg pairs ranging from 21 to 23. Their rear legs are spiny in order to ward off potential predators. The legs on the first body segment are modified into venom-bearing fangs called maxillipeds that centipedes use to hunt their food. They have mandibles, which are a modified pair of legs that end in a sharp claw into which a poison gland opens. The mandibles are used for seizing and killing prey. Centipedes have long, many-jointed antenna, simple or no eyes, and a head covered by a flat shield. Their brain is relatively large and connected with a ventral chain of ganglia. Their heart is a chambered dorsal vessel. Centipedes breath through openings called spiracles, which are located between the upper and lower chitinous shields and just behind the legs. They lead into tracheal chambers that then branch off to supply the various parts of the body with oxygen. Scolopendra gigantea has spiracles located at segments 4,6,8,11,13,15,17,19, and 21. Because of these openings, centipedes can lose a lot of water quickly and dehydration can occur. A normal lifespan for S. gigantea is about ten years, and this species can grow to be 12 inches long.

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The difference of the sexes is hard to detect, even in adults. Because the male has no copulatory organs, he must spin a small silk pad and then deposit his sperm on it. Then, the female picks up the sperm and lays her eggs.


Because of their mode of breathing, Scolopendra gigantea must live in humid environments, such as the underside of rocks or in the soil. After her eggs are laid, the female of the species broods them until the hatchlings can get their own food.

Food Habits

Giant centipedes are voracious carnivores that feed on small invertebrates such as crickets, worms, snails and roaches, and can also eat lizards, toads and mice.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Because they feed on many insects and other "pests," Scolopendra gigantea are valuable to gardeners and farmers in keeping the potential pest populations down. Also, centipedes in general are becoming popular terrarium pets.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

The poison emitted by the bite of Scolopendra gigantea is strong enough to seriously wound a human.

Conservation Status

There is no indication that this species is in any way endangered.


Catherine Meshew (author), Southwestern University, Stephanie Fabritius (editor), Southwestern University.



living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


Accessed April 5, 2000 at

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