The Centipede Order Scolopendromorpha in North America

Centipede research at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences has focused on the order Scolopendromorpha, the large, robust, conspicuous forms that are known to the general public and can deliver a painful bite. In contrast to North American representatives of the orders Lithobiomorpha and Geophilomorpha, the continental scolopendromorph fauna is limited and lacks major taxonomic problems, so it could feasibly be surveyed on a continental basis.

Twenty-one indigenous and six introduced species in nine genera occur in North America; two of the introductions have been intercepted only in quarantines at ports and two others are known only from one or two sites in Canada. Two Canadian provinces — Ontario and British Columbia — and 43 of the lower 48 states harbor indigenous scolopendromorphs, the exceptions being North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine; one species also is native to southern Alaska.

Species list and distributional maps

To compile this list, Dr. Rowland Shelley examined countless thousands of scolopendromorphs deposited in museums and university collections throughout North America. Locality data from these samples provided distributional information.

The following taxonomic list of species cites, in parentheses, widely used junior synonyms by which some species are more commonly known. Introduced species are noted and brief range statements are provided for those with restricted occurrences.

Click on the map icon ( ) next to a listing to see its distribution in North America, or on an underlined species name to see a species photograph.

First published in: Shelley, R. M. 2002. A synopsis of the North American centipedes of the order Scolopendromorpha (Chilopoda). Virginia Museum of Natural History Memoir 5:1-108. All content used by permission.

Order Scolopendromorpha Pocock, 1895

Family Scolopendridae Leach, 1815
Subfamily Scolopendrinae Leach, 1815

Genus Scolopendra Linnaeus, 1758

- S. viridis Say, 1821
- S. polymorpha Wood, 1861
- S. heros Girard, 1853
- S. alternans Leach, 1813 - in the United States, restricted to Collier, Dade, and Monroe counties, Florida, common in the West Indies.
- S. subspinipes Leach, 1815 - not established; intercepted in quarantines at ports.
- S. morsitans Linnaeus, 1758 - not established; intercepted in quarantines at ports.

Genus Hemiscolopendra Kraepelin, 1903

- H. marginata (Say, 1821) [=H. punctiventris (Newport, 1844)]

Genus Arthrorhabdus Pocock, 1891 Arthrorhabdus

- A. pygmaeus (Pocock, 1895) - in the United States, restricted to west Texas, occurs widely in Mexico. Arthrorhabdus
Subfamily Otostigminae Kraepelin, 1903

Genus Rhysida Wood, 1862

- R. longipes (Newport, 1845) - not established; intercepted at quarantines at ports and two specimens were encountered in the 1950s and ’60s in Miami and Key West, Florida.
Family Scolopocryptopidae Pocock, 1896  
Subfamily Scolopocryptopinae Pocock, 1896

Genus Scolopocryptops Newport, 1844

- S. sexspinosus (Say, 1821) Arthrorhabdus
- S. nigridius McNeill, 1887 Arthrorhabdus
- S. peregrinator (Crabill, 1952)
- S. rubiginosus L. Koch, 1878*
- S. gracilis Wood, 1862
- S. spinicaudus Wood, 1862
Subfamily Kethopinae Shelley, 2002 - endemic to the western United States: California, Utah, and New Mexico.

Genus Kethops Chamberlin, 1912

- K. utahensis (Chamberlin, 1909)
- K. atypus Chamberlin, 1943 - known only from Salt Lake City, Utah.

Genus Thalkethops Crabill, 1960 - endemic to caves in Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Eddy County, New Mexico.

- T. grallatrix Crabill, 1960
Family Cryptopidae Kohlrausch, 1881  
Subfamily Plutoniuminae Bollman, 1893

Genus Theatops Newport, 1844

- T. posticus (Say, 1821)
- T. spinicaudus (Wood, 1862)
- T. phanus Chamberlin, 1951 - endemic to south-central Texas.
- T. californiensis Chamberlin, 1902 - known only from Oregon and California; may occur in Nevada near Lake Tahoe.
Subfamily Cryptopinae Kohlrausch, 1881

Genus Cryptops Leach, 1815

- C. leucopodus (Rafinesque, 1820) [=C. hyalina Say, 1821]
- C. floridanus Chamberlin, 1925 - endemic to peninsular Florida.
- C. hortensis (Donovan, 1810) - an introduced European species that has become widely established in urban environments in both the United States and Canada.
- C. anomalans Newport, 1844 - an introduced European species recorded only twice, and possibly erroneously, from North America, from greenhouses in southern Québec and Ontario, Canada.
- C. parisi Brolemann, 1920 - an introduced European species recorded only once from North America, from a greenhouse in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada.

*Note: Scolopocryptops rubiginosus, occurring in the central United States from Minnesota to Texas, is a special case because the type specimens are from Japan and this name is widely applied to forms occurring there. There are no meaningful external anatomical differences between forms in the two countries, but if molecular studies find such, a new name will have to be proposed for the U.S. species as none is available.

Species endemic to the United States:

  • Hemiscolopendra marginata - the distribution suggests that it may also occur in Chihuahua and Coahuila states, Mexico, but no specimens have been collected there.
  • Scolopocryptops nigridius
  • S. peregrinator
  • Kethops utahensis
  • K. atypus
  • Thalkethops grallatrix
  • Theatops spinicaudus
  • T. phanus
  • T. californiensis
  • Cryptops leucopodus
  • C. floridanus

Species occurring in both the United States and Canada:

  • Scolopocryptops sexspinosus - in Canada, known only from Niagara Gorge, Ontario.
  • S. spinicaudus - ranges along the Pacific Coast from Los Angeles through British Columbia to southern Alaska and is the only indigenous scolopendromorph in Alaska.

Species occurring in both the United States and Mexico:

  • Scolopendra viridis - ranges southward through Mexico and Central America to Panama.
  • S. polymorpha
  • S. heros
  • Arthrorhabdus pygmaeus
  • Scolopocryptops gracilis - in Mexico, occurring only in Baja California Norté.
  • Theatops posticus - in Mexico, known only from Chihuahua, Sonora, and Baja California Norté.

Species occurring in both the United States and Caribbean Islands:

  • Scolopendra alternans


Shelley, R. M. 2002. A synopsis of the North American centipedes of the order Scolopendromorpha (Chilopoda). Virginia Museum of Natural History Memoir 5:1-108.