Like many local citizens, Mary Johnson has found the Altus City Reservoir to be a great place to walk. She has been doing this almost every day for the past five years, but has been taking extra precautions in recent weeks after spotting several venomous Texas redheaded centipedes (Scolopendra heros) there.
“I have seen three live and five dead ones in the last two weeks,” said Johnson. “None ever before that in the five years I have been here,” she added. The most recent was just yesterday on the north side of the smaller reservoir.
Texas redheaded centipedes are one of the world’s largest centipede species and can grow to be as long as 10 inches. Their heads are red, with segmented dark blue, purple or black bodies. Each segment bears a pair of yellow legs. The centipedes spotted at the reservoir, and found at nearby Granite, have black bodies.
Gary Strickland with the local OSU Extension Office, said that someone building a new house near Granite also brought in some specimens of these centipedes.
“They kept trying to come in the door every time they opened it,” Strickland said. “The bite from these centipedes won’t kill a human, but it may be extremely painful for up to a few day. And if you have insect allergies you may experience more severe reactions and should contact a medical professional.”
Because so many use the Altus City Reservoir for a variety of activities from walking, fishing and taking their dogs for a walk, it is important to stay on the lookout for these insects.
“Many parents also take their small children to the reservoir to feed ducks, so keep an closer eye on children as they walk over the rocky areas that the centipedes are especially attracted to.”
The Texas redheaded centipede can be found throughout much of the southwestern United States, as well as in northern Mexico. Texas redheaded centipedes prefer dark, moist environments and will take cover during the day. Rock crevices, leaf litter and rocks provide shelter, although the Texas redheaded centipede can also burrow into the ground. After dark, Texas redheaded centipedes hunt for prey; insects are their chief food source.
“This is the first time in 13 years that I’ve seen or heard about the centipedes being in our area,” said Strickland.