If legs upset you, a centipede could be up to 92 times more upsetting than spiders. You’re probably familiar with centipedes for their distinctive--and numerous--legs. Centipede actually translates to “100 legs,” although most species don’t actually have quite that many.
We don’t blame you for freaking out about that centipede in your home. The most common indoor centipede, the house centipede (Scutigera coleoptrata) has up to 15 pairs of long legs, can climb sheer surfaces, and moves fast. We’re answering a few of the centipede questions our customers tend to ask a lot. Hopefully, knowing a little more about these creepy-crawlies will help you overcome your fear. It won’t do anything about the legs, though.
What Are Centipedes?
Centipedes are arthropods (invertebrate) belonging to the Myriapoda--meaning “myriad legs”--subphylum. There are an estimated 8,000 species found all over the world. As generalist predators, different centipede species have adapted to a wide variety of environments, from arid deserts to tropical forests.
Different species of centipede vary widely in size; the smallest may only be a few millimeters long, while the largest centipedes may grow up to 12 inches long! They hunt using paralytic venom they store in poison glands and inject using a unique appendage called a “forcipule.” The forcipule is--you guessed it--a kind of foreleg, which has been modified to pierce prey and inject them with venom.
Where Do They Come From?
Centipedes don’t have the wavy, moisture-conserving cuticle that most insects and arachnids possess, so they rapidly lose water in arid biomes. Consequently, most species require and seek out moist living habitats, regardless of the larger environment they inhabit.
Centipedes find their ideal living environment among compost, under stones or rotting wood, inside logs or caves, or within wet soil. If you have them in your home, seek out humid parts of your house; they tend to be even more attracted to humidity and environmental moisture than other pests. Homes near moist area such as forests, swamps, or lakes are particularly prone to centipede infestation.
Which Ones Do I See?
If you have centipedes and you’re in our service area, chances are your unwelcome guests are house centipedes. This dirty-yellow, brown, or greyish-yellow variety have light-and-dark, banded striping running lengthwise over their inch-long bodies. House centipedes have one pair of long, jointed legs per body segment, for a total of 15 pairs of legs. The last pair of legs is can be twice the length of the centipede’s body. Each of the centipede’s legs are also clearly striped.
The creepiest thing about house centipedes is how fast they run. This species hunts by surprising their prey with high speed and darting movements, catching them and injecting them with venom before they can react. They’re nocturnal and attracted to moist environments. They fear humans and will typically flee to covered shelter if encountered. Though this centipede can administer venom to humans, they’ll only do so if there’s no other option, and the venom cannot seriously harm you.
What Do They Eat?
Centipedes commonly prey on pests such as cockroaches, fleas, silverfish, moths, spiders, beetles, and other small insects. Burrowing or outdoor species frequently eat small earthworms. House centipedes eat several insects in a single day, using their superior speed and climbing ability to simply run prey down and stun them with venom.
Centipedes use their long antennae to hunt prey by sensing movement and vibrations. In addition to their speed, house centipedes can accelerate quickly, allowing them to dart forward suddenly when they sense prey or feel endangered. Larger, outdoor species have been known to feed on rodents, snakes, and even birds and bats. The highly generalized nature of centipede adaptation means they will feed on anything they can easily and reliably hunt. Size is their primary dietary restriction.
Why Are They In My House?
Centipedes come into homes for the same reasons most pests do: food, water, and shelter. They can’t naturally survive Midwestern winters, so they need to find a place to stay warm until spring. If that place happens to have access to water and food, so much the better. Since their primary food source are other pests, other winter infestations tend to attract them, too.
Centipedes prefer to take cover under overhead shelter, if possible, so they like loose floorboards or low furniture. They also tend to move to areas where they can be active longer without needing to rest or hide, so they seek out dark, moist, and quiet places such as basements and attics.
Are They Dangerous?
Centipedes are capable of injecting humans with their venom, but it’s rare. House centipedes are the only species known to prefer indoor environments, and they’re frightened of humans. Larger species may have more painful “bites,” but they don't typically enter homes. Centipede attacks are generally rare and seldom result in serious medical consequences.
If cornered or panicked, house centipedes may attack humans. Should this happen, however, they're usually too small to break skin with their forcipules. Even if this happens, house centipede venom may cause some slight pain, but it isn’t dangerous in any substantial way.
How Can I Keep Them Out?
Centipedes enter homes to find moist, warm places to shelter and reproduce in winter. To keep them out, make sure you keep your basement clean, uncluttered, dry, and free from other pests that they rely on for food. Consider investing in a dehumidifer. Look for gaps or cracks in the walls, floors, or foundations. Pay especially close attention to basement and attic windows, and reseal or replace them if they’re worn down. Centipedes are known to crawl through cracked or leaking pipes, so make sure your plumbing is secure, too.
Centipedes may not be dangerous, but they can be distressing and annoying. Worst of all, centipedes like to reproduce and nurture eggs indoors. If you don’t deal with your problem quickly, you could end up with a multi-generational infestation on your hands. If you’re worried about centipedes starting families in your home, call Plunkett’s today. We’ll make those creepers walk their myriad legs right out the door.