Facts, Identification & Control
Centipedes belong to class of Chilopoda. The name centipede, which means “100 legs,” can be somewhat misleading: centipedes may have anywhere from 15 to 177 pairs of legs. Centipedes are elongated, with flat, segmented bodies that contain a pair of legs per segment. Centipedes occur in several colors and patterns but most common are brown and reddish orange. They range in size from 4 to 152 mm, depending on the species.
The heads of centipedes have a pair of long and sensitive antennae. They have small mouths and have large, clawlike structures that contain a venom gland. Because most centipedes are carnivorous creatures that forage for food at night, they use their claws to paralyze their victims, such as worms, spiders and small vertebrates.
Behavior, Diet & Habits
Adult centipedes hide in moist, dark and secluded areas during winter. They place eggs in dampened soil during summer or spring. As centipedes become adults, they grow a complete set of legs and extra segments. Most centipedes live for more than a year and some up to six years. Centipedes may enter houses and buildings, but they do not roam during daytime. They hide in damp areas around bathrooms, closets, basements and other sites typically infested by pests.
Centipedes detect prey through the use of their antennae, which are covered with dense hairs. Their prey is immobilized by venom injected from the maxilliped fang and held in place by the maxillipeds. Prey is passed to the mouth via the first and second maxillae and is then broken down by the mandibles. Most centipedes are carnivorous and prey upon soft-bodied insects, spiders, worms and other arthropods, including other centipedes.
Signs of a Centipede Infestation
Centipedes typically leave no direct signs other than the sighting of the centipede itself.
Centipedes are fast moving, agile, nocturnal animals. They are rarely seen by humans due to their nocturnal activity and the speed with which they move. While some centipedes have compound eyes containing as many as 200 optical units, others do not have eyes. All centipedes have very poor eyesight and track their prey through the use of touch and smell. Provided that they are able to escape from predators and that their surroundings are conducive to survival, centipedes can live as long as six years. Among arthropods, this lifespan is considered longer than many. Centipedes are venomous. Their venom allows them to attack prey and defend themselves against predators and other natural enemies. Centipede venom is not normally life endangering to humans, although the bite can be painful.
Centipedes in North America
Centipedes are found in a variety of North American environments, from harsh deserts to moist, deciduous forests. Centipedes in the United States are some of the largest of their kind. The sizeable North American centipede (Scolopendra hero) and the Sonoran Desert centipede, can be found in arid wastelands. These centipedes are found within the United States and Northern Mexico, where they thrive under rocks and logs. Indoors, the most likely encountered centipede species is the house centipede (Scutigera coleoptrata). It ranges from 25 to 38 mm and possesses extremely long legs. They have the ability to travel along walls as well as floors.
Centipede Control Methods
Because centipedes feed on insects and other arthropods, eliminating their food sources is a step toward controlling centipedes. For this reason, it’s ideal to identify all other pests inside houses and buildings before performing any pest control. Although centipedes may help homeowners get rid of insects like cockroaches and houseflies, large species could produce bites that are as painful as bee stings. Some centipedes can run quickly when disturbed. When they are handled, centipedes may bite, causing severe pain, numbness, discoloration and inflammation. For common house centipedes, setting sticky traps can be a way to accurately gauge centipede population levels. This activity will also help to identify potential routes of access within your home. If an infestation is confirmed, homeowners should try to reduce moisture and seal entry routes to the house or dwelling. Moisture in a building’s foundation can be a problem and lead to an infestation, as can water accumulated from the roof. Keep leaves, wood, compost and other organic material away from the sides of the home or building. Consult your local pest control professional.
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