Caring For The Vietnamese Centipede – January 2014

By Anthony Neubauer

The Vietnamese Centipede is a large invertebrate found throughout the jungles and tropics of Asia, especially southeast Asia where they are mostly imported from. There are also populations in Hawaii, and likely in other tropical climates throughout the world. Reaching lengths up to 12”,they are an active creature, scurrying through the jungle floor’s leaf litter as they search for their next meal. In captivity, they often burrow, but with a thought out setup,  they can be seen cruising around through vegetation and rearranging their enclosure. The Vietnamese Centipede is a great animal for the careful hobbyist.

Please Note: Centipedes in general are not for the inexperienced.  Not only do they possess powerful paralyzing venom, they are extremely prone to biting, and are one of the fastest, most unpredictable bugs you can deal with. I strongly recommend a long pair of hemostats, as they easily climb up tongs with astonishing speed. Although you can find pictures of it on the internet, handling should in no way be attempted. Centipedes tend to “test bite” everything they walk on, so an envenomation is almost inevitable. Please be responsible.

You don’t want to be on the receiving end of a bite from those chompers!

Selecting an Enclosure

Centipedes are escape artists, so if not housed in a 100% secure enclosure, they will get out at some point. I will only house them in glass tanks that have a sliding top lid with a pin to prevent it from opening. I prefer the sides to be taller than the centipede is long to create some space between my hand. It should also be tall enough to allow a few inches of substrate for burrowing, as well as a drainage layer if you plan to create a living vivarium, which is the best way to go. Anything from 5-10 gallons is enough space for even the largest specimen. I have heard of people keeping them in plastic enclosures such as those sold as “Kritter Keeper”, however, I would not trust all of the holes and gaps. The rule is: If the centipede can squeeze it’s head through, it can get it’s entire body through. Trust me from experience, you do not want one of these exploring the room you sleep in!

Water and Humidity

Perhaps the number one reason centipedes do not survive in captivity is hydration. Even so called “desert” centipedes do not live completely dry. In fact, when it is dry, they are no where to be found on the surface because they burrow down to the more humid layers of dirt. Vietnamese Centipedes come from dense, humid jungles, so they need to be kept as such. There are three steps to properly hydrating them. The first is always offering a water bowl full of water. Second, use a substrate that holds moisture well and will not mold. Third is regularly spraying down the enclosure. This is where a vivarium becomes most practical as you are watering the plants regularly anyway. Follow these three steps, and your centipede will thrive.

Temperature

Scolopendra subspinipes can be kept anywhere from room temp of 73*F, all the way up to 80*F. Keep in mind that at the higher end, they will act more natural, and be much quicker and aggressive. Many keepers will remove the heat source ahead of time if going into the enclosure is needed as this lets them cool down a bit and they tend to move a little slower. Still, do not let your guard down. Humidity is also harder to maintain at 80*F, so that should be accounted for.

Feeding

Feeding is an easy thing with these guys, as they are not picky. Any live vertebrate or invertebrate will be accepted. Crickets, Cockroaches, and mealworms and superworms are commonly available food items, and are the healthiest for the animal. Pinkies and feeder lizards can be offered occasionally, but they are not designed to digest vertebrates as much, so they tend to make them obese and have a  shorter life span. Large Cockroaches are what makes up a majority of their diet in the wild, so are probably the most beneficial and nutritious. Keep in mind that they are messy eaters, tearing their food up and often leaving a pile of bits and pieces of their meal. This should be removed as soon as possible due to the rapid growth of mold that is sure to happen due to the high humidity they are kept in.

Inside the Tank

When setting up a centipede enclosure, a few things should be taken into consideration. First, a thick layer of substrate should be provided to allow burrowing. Burrowing leads to a sense of security, which in turn leads to a comfortable centipede that will not be afraid to explore it’s enclosure. The enclosure should be made dense with either live or fake plants. Pothos plants make great live terrarium plants, as they have low light requirements, love a humid environment, and will vine out and climb all surfaces of the tank if allowed. They will also produce heavy ground cover if nothing is provided for them to climb up. This is perfect for your centipede. Live sheet moss is another great way to add humidity as well as a special aesthetic appeal to the tank. Stacks of broken cork bark also allows multiple hiding places, while looking good at the sametime. Cork bark will not mold, so is perfect for the centipede’s environment. For substrate, I recommend Cypress, Eco Earth, or my personal favorite, Tree Fern made by Exo Terra. The latter two will hold up better in a naturalistic vivarium a lot better, but if going for a simple and clean enclosure, Cypress will produced great results if changed once a month.

A Note on Venom:

Although there are no reliable reports of death by Scolopendra subspinipes, bite victims describe the experience as the most pain they have ever felt, with reactions ranging from severe pain with swelling, to slight necrosis of the tissue, accompanied with nausea, and unbearable pain. If bitten, a hospital trip should be arranged immediately to be on the safer side. Different subspecies have different levels of venom, but all should be treated with the same care and respect that a potentially dangerous animal demands. Think twice before purchasing a centipede if you share the house with children. Bottom line: Be responsible!

Differences among subspecies:

Scolopendra subspinipes subspinipes is the most commonly seen subspecies in the US. They are large, with 8-9” being average, and up to a foot not being unheard of. Colors range from the standard yellow leg, to cherry leg and tiger leg populations. Scolopendra subspinipes “de haani”is an extremely colorful subspecies, with varying degrees of deep red legs and body. S. subspinipes mutilans is a smaller subspecies,attaining sizes of around 5-6”. Their headplate, as well as their last body segment and terminal legs are a vivid red, with a black body and yellow legs. They are among the smallest of the species, and interestingly enough, are communal. I successfully kept 3 adults together for over a year. This is the only subspecies that is recommended to be housed together.

The Vietnamese centipede is a truly impressive invertebrate. When setup correctly, they can be a unique display animal that is sure to captivate its observers. As long as they are given their space, and measures are taken to prevent an escape, they make a very cool pet. Keep them hydrated and humid, and you’re sure to have your centipede for a very long time. The centipede is gaining popularity as more and more people realize the interesting behaviors and colors that come along with these prehistoric bugs.

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