Centipede Control: Protect Your Home
- My Home: I prefer dark, damp environments and you will find me under leaves, bark, and logs or in your basement. I am most active at night unless I am disturbed in my hiding places.
- What I eat: I use my venomous jaws to catch and eat other insects, stunning or killing my prey with the poison.
- What I look like: I am flat, reddish brown in color and usually around 1 inch in length. My first pair of legs are modified venomous jaws that I use to catch other insects. If you pick me up, I may bite. I have a single pair of legs on every segment of my body.
- How I am born: I go through 2 stages of development: egg and small adult. My egg is laid in the soil during the warm summer months and the females care for my egg until I hatch. Adult centipedes will protect my egg nests. When I hatch I look just like a small adult. To grow I shed my skin which is called molting, adding a pair of legs each time I molt. I can live up to five years.
- Fun Facts: The name centipede means ‘hundred legs’. In the tropical regions, some centipedes can get up to a foot long. A centipede is not an insect, it is a Chilopoda.
Centipedes are predators. They eat spiders, insects, and even other centipedes. They live in damp environments. Scientists think that this is because the centipede’s body does not retain moisture very well. Centipedes stay where it is humid so they do not dehydrate.
House centipedes are common in many parts of the United States. They normally reach about 10.5″ in length, but their long legs make them look bigger. The large tropical centipedes can reach 3″ in length. In the desert southwest, some species of centipede reach 8″ in length. Giant centipedes in South America reach almost 12″ in length.
Though their name implies that they have 100 legs, centipedes actually only possess a pair of legs per body segment for an approximate total of 30. While thousands of species exist, only the house centipede tends to wander into homes. Even though centipedes are not particularly destructive, many people fear the fast-moving and intimidating-looking creatures. As such, centipedes are considered a nuisance pest.
What Do They Look Like?
Size: The house centipede ranges from 1 to 1 1/2 inches (25 to 38 mm) in length. Including the length of their antennae and hind legs, centipedes may appear as long as 3 or 4 inches (76 to 102 mm).
Color: House centipedes are dark yellow in color with a trio of dark, longitudinal stripes on the body. Their legs are patterned with alternating dark and light stripes.
Characteristics: In general, centipedes are easily identified by their long, flat bodies and numerous legs. The black lines that run down the back of the house centipede also serve as a distinguishing characteristic. Additionally, the last pair of hind legs on an adult female are approximately twice the length of the body.
Thousands of centipede species live around the world. While they typically require significant levels of moisture, some species have the ability to survive in deserts and dry grasslands. House centipedes are thought to have originated in the Mediterranean region and were introduced to Mexico and the United States in the 1800s.
What Do They Eat?
Centipedes feed on a range of pest insects. Their diet consists of silverfish, firebrats, flies, carpet beetle larvae, spiders and various small arthropods.
Adult centipedes live for approximately one year. In their lifetime, female house centipedes will lay a maximum of 150 eggs in damp soil during the spring and summer. Developing by way of complete metamorphosis, the arthropods pass through an egg, larval and nymphal stage before reaching adulthood. Immature centipedes undergo 10 instars that cause their bodies to grow to accommodate additional pairs of legs. Adults overwinter in warm, moist places.
- May notice adult centipedes in gardens, around house plants or near other sources of vegetation.
- Often found in basements and other dark areas.
- Look for centipedes around sources of moisture, such as leaky pipes, drains and bathrooms.
Problems Caused by Centipedes
Despite the ecological benefits they provide by preying on insects and other pests, centipedes often cause psychological distress for the occupants of the homes they invade due to their disturbing appearance and darting motions. For this reason, pest control professionals regard the arthropod as a nuisance pest and will take action to remove the creature from homes, if necessary.
Signs of Infestation
Centipedes are solitary creatures that rarely invade homes in large numbers unless the structure is already infested with other pests that the arthropods typically prey upon. Therefore, if several adult centipedes are spotted around house plants or in basements, crawl spaces and other moist locations, a different and more pressing infestation usually exists somewhere in the home.
Since centipedes are secondary pests that enter structures to pursue sources of food, prevention should center on making homes and buildings less favorable to prey like carpet beetles, flies, cockroaches and similar insects. Sticky traps can help determine which pests are attracting the invading centipedes. Additionally, any sites that make ideal centipede habitats should be modified or eliminated. Caulk cracks in concrete slabs and block walls. Seal the covers to sump pumps. Lastly, reduce humidity levels by grading the soil around the building to facilitate water movement. In particularly dire situations, the use of dehumidifiers may prove helpful.
Tips for Removal from Home
While centipedes in yards or gardens should be left alone, the ones that move indoors may require the attention of a professional pest management specialist. Pest management professionals have the appropriate certifications and licenses to apply all the necessary pesticide sprays and dusts. Homeowners unfamiliar with pest management processes should not attempt to apply over-the-counter products without proper training or assistance.
Females of some species of centipedes produce unfertilized eggs. Most female centipedes, however, fertilize their eggs with sperm that the males produce. Most males leave the sperm for the females to find. In a few species, the male performs a courtship ritual.
After fertilizing the eggs, the female centipede deposits them in the soil. Some centipedes, including the house centipede and the stone centipede, put the eggs into holes in the soil. They put a single egg into each hole and then cover the hole. There can be as many as 50 eggs. After depositing the eggs, the female centipede leaves.
Other species of centipede, including the tropical or giant centipede and the soil centipede, make a nest for the eggs. The nest is usually in the soil, but the females sometimes make the nest inside a rotting log. The female cleans the eggs to prevent fungal damage. She stays with the eggs until they hatch and the immature centipedes can hunt for food.
When they hatch from the egg, immature house centipedes only have 4 pair of legs. As they grow, they add body segments and legs each time they shed their skin. Other species of centipedes emerge from the egg with all of the body segments and legs that they will ever have.
Claws & Venom
Centipedes have a pair of claws just behind their head. These claws are connected to a venom gland. The centipede can use the venom to paralyze its prey. Small centipedes may not be strong enough to bite humans. People often receive a scratch from the small centipedes.
Yes, Centipedes Can Bite People
Large centipedes are strong enough to bite humans and deliver a dose of venom. Most people get a swollen red spot that itches for a few hours. Some people even get a sore at the bite site. This can be tender for several weeks.
A few people are allergic to centipede venom. Victims should be observed carefully. If they show signs of headache, dizziness, or nausea they should receive medical attention.