The house centipede, unlike most other centipedes that normally live outdoors, can live indoors especially in damp, moist basements, cellars, bathrooms, crawlspaces or unexcavated areas under the house. They are sometimes seen running rapidly across the floor with great speed, stopping suddenly to remain motionless and then resuming fast movements, occasionally directly toward the homeowner to conceal themselves in their clothing. They have a “fearful” appearance but cause no damage to the structure, household possessions or foods. Some can bite when handled carelessly, resulting in a slight swelling or pain no worse than a mild bee sting.
Centipedes, or “hundred-legged worms,” are reddish-brown, flattened, elongated animals with many segments, most of which have 1 pair of legs. The first pair of legs is modified into poisonous jaws located below the mouth. Antennae have 14 or more segments. The house centipede is greyish-yellow with 3 dark, long stripes down the back with the legs encircled with alternating dark and white bands. The actual body length is an inch or slightly longer (worm like), surrounded with 15 pairs of very long legs making the creature appear much larger. The last pair of legs is more than twice the body length of the female. A pair of very long slender antennae extends forward from the head. They move quickly and are sometimes mistaken for long-legged spiders. Other centipedes, found outdoors, often are more elongate with shorter legs and antennae.
LIFE CYCLE & HABITS
Centipedes need moist habitats and those living outdoors are found in rotting wood, compost piles, mulch, wood chips, leaves, etc.
The house centipede can complete its life cycle indoors, as it prefers dampness. Centipedes prey on insects, spiders and other small animals, being considered beneficial to humans. The last pair of hind legs are modified to lasso and hold the victims until they are paralysed by venom from the jaws connected to poison glands.
The house centipede runs swiftly when disturbed and can climb walls easily. Some are found around sump pumps in basements or bathrooms and other humid, dark hiding places where they are most active at night. They usually occur in small numbers and, despite their fearful appearance, they are considered harmless to humans. The jaws of young centipedes are usually not strong enough to cause more than a slight pinch when biting.
Centipedes, related to lobsters, crayfish and shrimp, require moist habitats and areas of high humidity. It is important to keep the house and outside area as dry as possible.
Keep old boards, or rotting wood, compost piles, grass clippings, leaves, stones, etc. away from the house foundation. Remove, if practical, trash or leaf litter in a strip 1m wide surrounding the house foundation, exposing the soil surface to drying from the air and sunlight. Repair and seal cracks and openings in the foundation wall and around door and window frames with caulking compound and weather stripping.
Properly ventilate basements and sub floor crawlspaces to eliminate excess moisture. Indoors, control nuisance insect populations to reduce the food source (prey) of centipedes. These creatures can be collected by broom and dustpan, vacuum cleaner or other mechanical means and discarded.
Try to locate the infested area or cause of infestation (nearby bush, pastures, lake sides, river areas, etc). Outdoor, spray a protective barrier thoroughly soaking the soil in a five to fifteen-foot band around the house. Also, thoroughly spray the sides of the house up to the level of the first story windows, especially across doorways and other openings. The carbamate insecticides such as propoxur (baygon), bendiocarb (ficam) or carbaryl (sevin) give the fastest knockdown compared to the other groups of insecticides. Wettable powder formulations provide the best soil residual control. If foundation plantings are heavily mulched, insecticides may have to be rodded down to the soil beneath the mulch. Repeat applications at weekly intervals may be needed.
Treatment of the peat moss, mulch, wood chips, leaves, etc., used in landscaping around the house, is important. Subsequent water sprinkling will carry the insecticide down into the soil where these creatures hide. Do not expect immediate kill since control may be slow (three to six days or more).
William F. Lyon
Keith L. Smith, Associate Vice President for Ag. Adm. and Director, OSU Extension.
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