CRITTERS: The desert centipede is a long, leggy predator older than man
Editor’s note: “Critters” is a monthly series featuring insects, spiders, snakes and other freaky/fun creatures unique to the Grand Valley. You know, the kinds of critters you aim to keep your distance from but love to learn about. Have a critter you want discussed? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The common desert centipede (colopendra polymorpha) — a fairly prevalent, but hard-to-find arthropod in the Grand Valley — seems like the stuff of nightmares. It’s big, leggy, definitely ugly and deals out a painful bite. But, it’s fairly harmless to humans.
“If there’s one thing you don’t want to be bit by in this valley, it’s the desert centipede,” Colorado State University Extension Western Colorado entomology expert Bob Hammon said.
The venom creates a painful bite site that aches without relief, even with pain killers, for several days, Hammon noted. Yet, it’s known to be no more lethal than a scorpion or bee sting.
Rick Cummelin should know — his foot was munched in two places by a giant centipede earlier this summer.
“The pain in my foot was really intense,” Cummelin said. “It hurt for three days, and it got really red and ugly looking. It didn’t swell up, but felt like someone hit my foot with hammer it was that painful.”
The bites occurred around 1:30 a.m. in bed, when Cummelin woke up from the pain.
“I had no idea what caused it,” he noted. “I got up and the pain didn’t go away.”
After getting back into bed, something ran across Cummelin’s feet.
“It scared the crap out of me!” he added.
So, he got his flashlight out and started looking around. When Cummelin first saw a glimpse of the critter, he thought it may be a scorpion. But after getting a better look, it turned out to be a 5-inch centipede.
“This thing was pretty big,” Cummelin said, who lives just south of Whitewater in the Pronghorn subdivision. “There’s a bunch of them out there. Neighbors have seen them, too.”
Clifton resident Glenda McConnell Jarrett sometimes runs into these wiggly critters when she’s outside her home. Most recently, she found the biggest one she’s seen yet — about 4 inches long.
“I think all the rain pushed it out and it was dead,” Jarrett said. “I live up here by the Price Ditch, and I run into a lot of them working in my yard.”
The common desert centipede hasn’t come into her home yet, she continued. Rather, they show up on her patio occasionally and more often are seen crawling around the dirt.
“When I was growing up here on 33 Road, we were always catching them,” Jarrett added.
According to information provided by the CSU Extension, “The common desert centipede is, by far, the largest centipede commonly encountered in the state, often reaching about 5 inches in length. Coloration is typically light brown to brick but may range even more widely; olive brown, yellow and bluish tints are known to occur among this highly variably colored species. There is usually one dark stripe running across each segment, lending to this species another common name — ‘tiger centipede’.”
Hammon said these critters are around more often than you think, but they’re nocturnal predators less common than scorpions. They generally feed on a variety of insects, but “larger, older stages may even occasionally capture and kill small reptiles or mammals,” a write-up provided by the CSU Extension said.
“This is a native centipede,” Hammon continued. “It’s been here longer than man. … The biggest I’ve seen is 6 inches.”
During the day, the desert centipede stays hidden under rocks and boards. It also has a “pseudohead” on its back end, resembling its actual head with long legs that look like antennae; this is a way the centipede protects itself from larger predators.
“I’ve seen them on my property on East Orchard Mesa,” Hammon said. “They’re around, just hard to find. They’re very secretive. … Most of the ones I’ve gotten are from the west end of the valley, but they’re spread all across western Colorado in the lower elevations.”
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