7 Kinds of Centipedes & Millipedes in New Mexico!

Did you see a centipede in New Mexico?

Types of centipedes in New Mexico

Many people consider these strange creatures to be some sort of mutant worms, but luckily, they’re not. 🙂

In truth, millipedes and centipedes are much more closely related to marine animals like lobsters, crayfish, and shrimp. The biggest difference is that millipedes and centipedes are land dwellers.

Having them around your house is a huge benefit despite their creepy appearance. Centipedes eat silverfish, cockroaches, spiders, and other household insects; millipedes, on the other hand, ingest dead material they encounter, an important step in the food chain that helps keep us fed! They also carry no diseases affecting people, animals, or plants.

7 centipedes and millipedes found in New Mexico:

#1. Desert Millipede

  • Orthoporus ornatus
Types of millipedes in New Mexico

Most mature Desert Millipedes are about 10 cm (4 in) long, but some can reach an incredible 23 cm (9 in). They’re usually dark brown to sandy yellow, depending on what color desert they inhabit.

Their primary food source is the bacteria in decaying animal and plant matter. You might find that diet gross, but it’s vital to its desert habitat. The desert ecosystems where these millipedes live in New Mexico would collapse without them!

They prefer damp soil deep underground, where there is plenty of decaying material. After a rainstorm, they venture to the surface until the soil dries again and then head back underground.

In addition to providing food, the Desert Millipede’s underground habitat offers protection from heat, sunlight, and predators. And despite its toxicity, 13 predators are known to eat them, including Millipede Assassin Bugs, spiders, ants, birds, and domesticated chickens.

#2. Greenhouse Millipede

  • Oxidus gracilis
Common New Mexico millipedes

Greenhouse Millipedes are found all over New Mexico. They originated in Japan and were carried to the Americas and Eurasia during trading expeditions. They’re around 23mm (1 in) long.

These millipedes are different looking than many of their cousins. They’re largely black or brown on top, with white legs. However, instead of having a round, tubular body of plates that integrate smoothly, they appear rather bumpy.

Greenhouse Millipedes also have an interesting trick. Recall that millipedes are related to lobsters, crayfish, and shrimp, yet there are no water-dwelling millipedes because they lack gills. However, this species can retain a bubble of air around their spiracles and spend an extraordinary amount of time underwater.

Unlike other species, the Greenhouse Millipede doesn’t have eyes, instead relying on its antenna to find food, locate mates, and perform other essential functions. They give off a particularly noxious odor when threatened. They’re poisonous to predators, so very few things consume them. Luckily, they’re not dangerous to humans, provided you don’t eat a handful of them!

#3. Long-Flange Millipede

  • Asiomorpha coarctata
Common New Mexico centipedes

Look for Long-Flange Millipedes in New Mexico in sub-tropical areas, including the Gulf Coast. They also inhabit the West Indies and even the isolated Galápagos Islands.

Native to Southeast Asia, these millipedes have been spread through the import and export business. Fortunately, they don’t significantly impact the habitats where they are introduced. Instead, they fulfill a vital function no matter where they end up, releasing minerals back into circulation to keep the food chain going.

They range from 1.4-2.8 cm (0.55-1.1 in) long. They’re dark brown to black with a large yellow flange on each body segment. The legs are reddish brown.

#4. Common Desert Centipede

  • Scolopendra polymorpha
Centipedes of New Mexico

The Common Desert Centipede is a pale orangey-brown color with lateral black stripes. However, it can have several different colorations, giving rise to another common name, the Multicolored Centipede. Its head and tail tip are usually more orange than the rest of the body.

The rare color morphs can be exceptional, though. For example, individuals may be pale blue with purple stripes and turquoise legs, despite being the same species.

They may be pretty, but it’s best to avoid this centipede in New Mexico.

The bite of the Common Desert Centipede is one of the most painful bites possible from an arthropod. Much worse than a wasp sting, it has been compared to the Bullet Ant Sting and will almost certainly send you to the emergency room. The venom spreads after the initial bite, and the pain worsens until you seek treatment.

This centipede is unlikely to kill you, but it can cause localized tissue necrosis around the wound. Some call it the most painful bite in the world. Despite its ill effects, it can still be useful in medical applications. Elements of the venom have antimicrobial properties against many diseases that can make humans sick, including E. coli.

#5. Giant Desert Centipede

  • Scolopendra heros
Millipedes of New Mexico

Look for the Giant Desert Centipede in New Mexico in hot, arid climates with sandy soil. Sometimes its whole body is reddish, including the body, head, and tail, while sometimes, it is nearly all black with a red head and tail.

Nevertheless, in every case, it has bright yellow legs, so predators know it is dangerous. Its food consists of amphibians, rodents, and reptiles, but also flies, which it captures by raising the front of its body into the air!

The venom of the Giant Desert Centipede is not lethal but can cause incredible pain. Kidney failure and heart attacks have happened with severe bites, but there are no recorded deaths. It contains cardiotoxic proteins, histamines, serotonin, and cytolysin, which break down cellular membranes, killing specific cells.

In addition to being venomous, this species moves quickly and is relatively large. Giant Desert Centipedes can grow up to 20 cm (8 in) long.

#6. House Centipede

  • Scutigera coleoptrata

This species is the most common centipede in homes in New Mexico!

They’re yellow-grey, with three stripes running down their backs. You might consider them racing stripes with how fast they can scoot along!

The legs are thick and powerful near the body but taper toward the ends, contributing greatly to their ability to zip after prey. Their antennae are extraordinarily long to help them sense their next meal. Incredibly, the two “decoy” antennae on their back end aren’t just there to fool predators; they’re actual antennae that function just like the front ones!

House Centipedes may look creepy, but they can be a useful houseguest. Their favorite foods include insects and spiders, but they’re fast enough to catch and eat houseflies and grasshoppers, too. In addition, they like damp environments, which is why basements and garages are so attractive to them.

Outside, you’ll find them in damp spaces that stay cool, such as woodpiles, rocky areas with good hiding places, prey-stalking lookout points, or piles of leaf litter. If you have a compost pile, they’ll be there!

#7. Soil Centipedes

  • Order: Geophilomorpha
Soil Centipedes aren’t a single species in New Mexico but a massive family with too many members to mention. Instead, it is more useful to note that leg pairs vary from 27 to 191 (54 to 382 individual legs) depending on the species.

Their coloring can range from white to reddish brown, and they’re slender to aid their movement through the soil. These creatures are a bit flatter than most centipedes. Since they spend most of their time underground, Soil Centipedes have no eyes.

They move through the soil like an earthworm, pushing the front of their body forward and dragging the back towards it before repeating the process. Their goal is to find insect larvae and earthworms to eat, and they use fangs like all centipedes do to capture their prey.

They can range in size from incredibly tiny to monstrously large. The smallest individuals are 1.9 cm (0.75 in), and the largest is 19 cm (7.48 in). Luckily, since they live in soil, you’re unlikely to find this type of centipede inside your home.

Soil Centipedes provide a huge benefit that you might not have thought of – managing soil quality! These bugs digest and release nutrients otherwise trapped in waste for years. Their burrowing also aerates the soil, like earthworms, which allows water, nutrients, and minerals to reach plant roots more effectively. So even though they’re creepy, we should be grateful they exist!

Which of these centipedes have you seen before in New Mexico?


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*To explore more of the centipedes and millipedes that have been found near you, check out iNaturalist!

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