A common pest in many parts of the United States and Canada, centipedes have an evolutionary lineage that experts say dates back 400 million years. Moreover, there are over 3,000 species of centipedes worldwide and these creatures are extremely widespread geologically, with almost all continents having at least one type of centipede.
House centipedes, scientifically known as Scutigeracoleoptrata, may not be pretty, but as far as pests go, this is one of the better ones to have. Although they are gross to look at, house centipedes feed only on other insects. Typically, their diets may include cockroaches, spiders, bed bugs and termites. I think we can all agree that this is not an awful pest to have around the house!
But, rich history aside, the centipede is usually an unwanted visitor both outside and inside the home, although they are relatively harmless to humans. Getting rid of them from your house and its surroundings takes some know-how and work – and may require professional help – but they can be eliminated.
Types of Centipedes
Centipedes belong to the Chilopoda class. There are five different orders of centipedes worldwide. Centipedes are distributed all over the world and all five orders prefer damp, moist spaces. In fact, without moisture, centipedes cannot survive. While house centipedes are thought of as fairly harmless, many types of centipedes around the world are known to be highly poisonous capable of causing extreme pain and, on rare occasions, even death.
Scutigeromorpha: This category includes the subject of this article: house centipedes. This family of centipedes originated in the Mediterranean, but as they are highly adaptable and live mostly indoors, they have quickly spread worldwide, including to the United States and Canada. Besides our house centipedes, most members of this centipede family live in tropical Africa or Australasia. This family of centipedes is small and rarely harmful to people. These centipedes are easy to identify as they are small in size and they have distinct, long and wispy legs. They also have a set of compound eyes like house flies.
Lithobiomorpha: This category of centipedes is also often called stone centipedes, as they are a stone dweller and tend to live in gardens or forests. These species does not have compound eyes and some members of this family have no eyes at all! Like house centipedes, members of this centipede family are nocturnal. Most members of this family are fairly harmless to humans. They can live up to 3 years and many species in this family live in Europe. Although stone centipedes also have a flattened body, they have much shorter legs and antennae than house centipedes.
Craterostigmomorpha: This is the centipede family that is the least widespread geographically and with the least diversity. This family of centipede lives only in Tasmania and New Zealand, preferring wooded areas, including rainforests. Like other centipede species, this family prefers a damp environment, often finding a home in rotting logs or marshlands.
Scolopendromorpha: This family of centipede is mostly found in tropical regions. Of all the centipede families, members of this family are the most dangerous to people. Bites from certain families in this order can be dangerous and can result in hospitalization or even fatality. This family of centipedes includes the only known aquatic centipede, S. Cataracta. This centipede is native to Southeast Asia and is, “as comfortable swimming and walking underwater as it is on land, in a finding that surprised scientists "1. This family also includes the Amazonian Giant Centipede that can grow to be over 30 cm long! These centipedes feed on insects, but also rodents, amphibians and snakes.
Geophilomorpha: Members of this order of centipedes are also called soil centipedes due to their fondness of dirt and rotting logs. They have no need for eyes as they live underground. Their diets often consist of earthworms and insect larvae. They are much slower in comparison to other order of centipedes and resemble worms, long, shiny and with much shorter legs. This family includes over 1200 different species and is geologically widespread and the most diverse of centipede families. Like house centipedes, members of this family are usually harmless to humans.
How Do I Know I Have Centipedes?
Unlike many pests, centipedes don’t usually leave outward signs of their presence, but are only known when they reveal themselves. In addition, they’re naturally nocturnal and are rarely seen during the day. The typical centipede is brownish with a flattened and elongated body. They have many different body segments with a pair of legs attached to each segment. Centipedes are between 1 to 6 inches long, but a house centipede is usually only an inch to an inch and a half long.
As they do not damage food or property, the only way you will know you have centipedes is if you see them in your home.
Note: Centipedes are sometimes mistaken for millipedes, but millipedes have two pair of legs on each segment and have plumper, shiny bodies that are not flattened.
What Are House Centipedes?
A house centipede is an arthropod, which means they have an exoskeleton (their skeleton is on the outside of their body and also serves as a protective shell) and a segmented body. Spiders, scorpions, insects and even crabs are also part of this family. Unlike other types of centipedes that prefer soil or rocky areas, a house centipede can live almost its entire life inside a building.
You can identify a house centipede by its grey-yellow body (that has three stripes down the back), as well as by its long, wispy legs that are banded with white.
While a house centipede’s body rarely measures more than 1 1/2 inches long, it seems much longer because of its 15 pairs of legs, as well as its long antennae. Unlike many other types of centipedes, house centipedes have a fully developed and functioning set of eyes.
You can also identify a house centipede by its speed. A house centipede can travel at 0.4 meters per second!
Still not sure if what you’ve seen is a house centipede? See the picture below to confirm.
Where Do House Centipedes Live?
House centipedes prefer to live in damp areas – such as cellars, bathrooms or closets – but can also be found in attics during warmer months. They are also common in basements and can spend their entire lives indoors. They are crevice dwellers and usually enter a home through cracks.
Are Centipedes Poisonous?
House centipedes are poisonous although the variety found in North America is unlikely to harm us. Their modified legs are not powerful enough to penetrate human skin. A pet may feel the wrath of its sting (a speedy centipede is an almost irresistible treat for a cat!) but it is not dangerous or very painful for a larger animal, usually simply causing a bit of swelling. They use their poison to hunt and help kill their prey. They administer their venom through their legs and not their teeth, so it is a sting rather than a bite. They can even hunt large, more dangerous prey this way, as they can sting and then hide out and wait for their prey to die, much as the Komodo dragon does. House centipedes often employ a method of hunting called lassoing where they jump on top of their prey and immobilizes it with their long legs.
Other varieties of centipede, notably the ones that live in Asia, South America and Africa, are highly venomous and are large enough that their stingers are able to penetrate human skin. People that have been stung by these tropical varieties report extreme pain in the affected area and, although not usually fatal to adults, a centipede sting can be deadly to a child. Centipede stings can also be fatal to individuals suffering from bee sting allergies.
How Do I Get Rid Of Centipedes?
There are a variety of methods to get rid of centipedes, including hiring the services of a professional exterminator if the problem persists.
It’s not easy to kill centipedes because their long legs make them very fast and hard to catch. The good news is that centipedes aren’t usually found in large numbers inside a house, so killing them as you see them can quickly eliminate the problem.
If killing a centipede seems too harsh, you can always try to catch it in a jar and release it outside.
Get Rid of Other Pests
Getting rid of other pests in your home will eliminate a centipede’s food supply, and they will either die or move on to another feeding ground. A good rule of thumb is to make sure food is properly stored and don’t leave dirty dishes in the sink. This will eradicate the possibility of an ant or cockroach problem. Destroy spider webs as you see them and if you suspect that a piece of furniture is infested with bed bugs, get rid of it.
Keep Your Home Dry
Centipedes cannot survive unless they are in a moist environment. You should clean up all damp areas and also use a dehumidifier. Several houseplants, such as lilies, palms, ivies and ferns can also help remove excess moisture from the air. Besides keeping your house a no-go zone for centipedes, you will prevent dangerous molds and mildew from growing, as well as preventing damage from rotting wood.
Clean Up The Clutter Outside
Keeping the perimeter of your home free of organic material is crucial in keeping centipedes from gaining entry. That means placing firewood, mulch, tarps and compost bins as far from the house as possible. Also be sure to remove any compost, leaves, wood and other organic debris.
Close Off Entrance Points
Sealing any cracks in the concrete foundation of your home, as well has caulking any gaps around windows, will help prevent centipedes from coming inside. You can also:
- Apply weather stripping to the outside of the house
- Caulk holes between walls
- Clear gutters and downspouts of leaves, branches or other debris that may be blocking the water’s natural flow away from the house
There are a variety of insecticide sprays and aerosols that can be applied along cracks, crevices, entry points and baseboards. Liquid and dust applications can also be applied. Always beware of using poisons to kill pests in your home, especially if you have small children or household pets.
Sticky traps can be effective and should be placed in areas where centipedes tend to hunt – such as corners and crevices. You may also catch other insects with these traps, as well. But larger centipedes may be able to escape these traps by leaving a couple of legs behind, as centipedes can detach their legs (much like some lizards do with their tails) when they feel trapped.
Sticky traps can be effective in alerting you to heavy traffic areas for centipedes. This can help you pinpoint a specific area if you decide to use insecticides.
Cayenne Pepper is a natural way to discourage centipedes from camping out in your home. Lay down a thin layer of cayenne pepper at entrance points both inside and outside of your home.
Boric acid is an all-natural insecticide that people use to rid their homes of many pests, including cockroaches and ants. It works particularly well for animals that have nests as it can be mixed with sugar which they will take back to their queen. It is appropriate to used to rid your home of centipedes because it will dry out their bodies. Centipedes seek out damp environments because they cannot live if their bodies dry out. It will also be effective as it will help rid your home of other pests which are a centipede’s food source. Never use boric acid in an area that is used for food preparation.
Although this is a drastic and expensive step, an exterminator can help rid your house of centipedes if they are really bothering you. The average cost for a one-time visit is about $400, but may be worth it if these creepy crawlies are keeping you up at night.
In conclusion, as far as pests go, house centipedes are not an awful one to have. They can help control the presence of other, much more destructive critters and are rarely seen. Unless you live in a tropical climate, centipedes are also unlikely to harm you and most North American centipedes are in fact incapable of penetrating human skin with their sting.
House centipedes get a bad rap because they are ugly and they move unsettlingly fast. The best way to prevent the presence of centipedes in your home is to keep it dry as centipedes need dampness in their environment to survive. It is also a good idea to keep it uncluttered and free of any organic matter, both inside and out. Make sure to seal your home to help deter centipedes from entering. Finally, a centipede cannot survive without food. If you rid your home of other unwanted pests, centipedes are unlikely to stick around for long. They are also solitary creatures, so you won’t have to deal with a huge colony or a nest of centipedes.
If you have taken all of the above advice and still have centipedes in your home, it may be appropriate to use an all-natural or chemical insecticide or to employ the services of a professional exterminator.