An ever-increasing range of weird and wonderful invertebrates are kept as pets in the UK today, and even the most exotic and unusual bugs and insects can now be found in the homes of enthusiastic keepers. While most people give leggy bugs such as millipedes and centipedes a wide berth, nevertheless, they have an undeniable appeal and fascination for many, who are keen to observe them up close and personal and so, may choose to keep exotic insects such as these within the home.
While centipedes can be found living native within the UK, these creatures can be hard to find, reclusive and are generally small, so the larger and rather more impressive foreign species are often kept as pets in their place, and these can be bought from various exotic pet retailers, invertebrate specialists, breeders and importers with relative ease.
If you are on the lookout for your next pet and are wondering if a centipede might be a good candidate, it is important to research this idea carefully before moving forwards, as the care and management of a pet centipede is not as simple as it may first seem! This article will give you a basic introduction to pet centipedes, plus a little insight into their temperament and care requirements.
A centipede is an arthropod with many legs, arranged in pairs along their segmented body. The name ‘centipede’ means ‘100 feet,’ although the total number of feet on any given centipede varies from species to species, and can range from twenty legs to as many as three hundred. Centipedes always have an odd number of pairs of legs, and never an even number! There are around 8,000 species of centipedes in the world, and they live in a geographically diverse range of environments, from tropical rainforests and deserts to the cold wastelands of the Arctic Circle. They are predatory animals that will eat live prey as well as sometimes vegetable matter, and can range dependant on species from just a few mm long to over 30cm. All species have a pair of venomous claws, known as forcipules, at their head, which are used to incapacitate and kill their prey.
It may come as a surprise to many people to learn that the humble centipede is considered to be the most aggressive bug commonly kept as a pet, and every species of centipede without exception is considered to be rather grumpy and ill tempered! Centipedes are venomous, and the venom of some species of larger centipedes is actually potentially harmful to humans. A bite from a centipede can lead to localised swelling and significant pain, and even fever, chills and weakness in the adult human. In children and the elderly, the effects of a bite may be more pronounced, and can cause a serious reaction and associated sickness and pain. Centipede bites can also cause a very dangerous reaction in those allergic to the venom, as there is the possibility of a bite triggering anaphylactic shock in the odd unlucky person!
Smaller species of centipede will not be able to pierce the skin of the human and so this risk is negated, but the larger species that are often kept as pets are more than capable of doing damage! Centipedes also tend to be very free with their bites, and should never be handled due to their aggressive tendencies. This is one pet to keep very firmly at arms length, and is not one to pick up and play with.
Centipedes need to be fed live prey, which is understandably not to everyone’s taste! Centipedes will often eat animals much larger than themselves, and the diet of the captive-kept centipede will commonly consist of insects such as crickets, cockroaches, flies and other small insects, and even, for larger species, defrosted pinkie mice.
Not only does this necessitate the centipede keeper acquiring and taking care of prey animals within the home, but also, being willing and able to fed said live prey to their centipede, something that many people are unhappy to do. If you are squeamish about the idea of feeding live prey to your bug, then a centipede is not a suitable pet for you!
The housing, environment and care requirements of centipedes are very specific, and centipedes do not tolerate well any slip-ups or mistakes in their care. Centipedes usually require additional heating to the ambient temperature, as well as a relatively high humidity content that requires their substrate being misted with water regularly. Several inches of a suitable substrate must be provided within the tank, as well as a good range of textures including bark, leaf litter and rotting wood, to allow your centipede to burrow if they wish, and to thrive. Centipedes are fairly active creatures, so they can provide plenty of interest watching them go about their day, something that many other bugs and insects do not provide.
Additionally, centipedes are very strong for their size, and may potentially be able to escape from their tank by levering off the lid! Your centipede’s tank should be tall enough to ensure that even fully stretched and standing on any tank furniture, they cannot reach the lid, and the lid should be well secured ad clipped down on the outside, just in case!
Centipedes are challenging to keep, not least due to their aggressive temperaments, harmful venom and relatively specific care needs. Once you also factor in the necessity to provide live food for them, it is easy to see why many would-be invertebrate owners pass centipedes by after a little investigation. However, if you are looking for an active, interesting pet to look at but not touch, and are prepared to do your homework and find out about what your centipede needs to thrive and be healthy, you may well find that the centipede is a good choice of exotic pet for you.