Centipedes Facts: Everything You Need To Know

August 30, 2023

Centipedes are many people’s worst nightmare; while they do not generally pose much danger, they can be quite startling when they scuttle across the floor suddenly. What’s more, seeing them on your property can be an indication of the presence of other pests. Read on to learn all you need to know about centipedes, their behavior, and how to prevent them. 


What Do Centipedes Look Like?


Centipedes are elongated arthropods with flattened, segmented bodies that can vary in length from a few millimeters to several inches. They are characterized by their numerous legs, with each body segment typically bearing one pair of legs. Despite their name, centipedes can have anywhere from 15 to over 100 pairs of legs, depending on the species. The legs are arranged along the sides of their body, and each leg is covered in fine hairs.


A centipede’s coloration can range from pale yellow to reddish-brown or even darker hues, helping them blend into their surroundings. Centipedes possess a pair of elongated, venomous fangs near their head, which they use to capture and immobilize prey, injecting venom to subdue their victims. Their head is equipped with a pair of antennae that aid in sensing their environment and locating prey.


Centipedes also have distinct eyes, typically consisting of an array of simple ocelli, or individual eye lenses, arranged along the sides of their head. These eyes contribute to their sensitivity to light and movement. Their segmented bodies enable flexible movement and efficient navigation through crevices and tight spaces. Overall, centipedes exhibit a range of adaptations that allow them to thrive in various habitats worldwide, from damp soil to leaf litter and even inside homes.


Are Centipedes Dangerous?


Centipedes can possess a certain level of danger, primarily due to their venomous nature. While the majority of centipede species are not harmful to humans and their bites might result in mild pain or discomfort similar to a bee sting, there are some larger species with more potent venom that can cause more significant reactions. The most dangerous species in the United States is called Scolopendra subspinipes, also known as the giant centipede. Their venom is used to immobilize their prey, which includes insects and other small invertebrates.


However, the most common centipede species in the U.S. is the Scutigera coleoptrata, also known as the house centipede, who pose very little threat to humans and pets. At worst, their bites cause mild pain and swelling. 


Certain individuals might experience allergic reactions to centipede bites, leading to localized swelling, redness, and discomfort. In rare cases, people who are highly sensitive to insect venoms could experience more severe symptoms that require medical attention.


It’s worth noting that centipedes are not aggressive towards humans and will usually only bite in self-defense, for instance if they feel threatened or cornered. To minimize the risk of being bitten by a centipede, it’s advisable to avoid handling them directly and to be cautious when encountering them in their natural habitats. If a bite occurs and symptoms appear to be severe or allergic in nature, seeking medical help is recommended.


Where Do Centipedes Live?


Centipedes prefer damp and sheltered environments, often inhabiting areas with high humidity levels such as leaf litter, under stones and logs, and in soil. They thrive in a variety of habitats ranging from forests and grasslands to deserts and caves. Centipedes are commonly found in decaying organic matter, as it provides both moisture and a source of prey.


They are also known to inhabit human-made structures like basements, bathrooms, and crawl spaces, seeking out dark and moist corners. In these indoor environments, they can quickly become pests. Centipedes are skilled at navigating through tight spaces and crevices, which aids in finding suitable hiding spots and accessing prey.


Since centipedes are arthropods, their preference for humidity is crucial to maintaining their moisture levels because they lack a waxy outer layer to prevent water loss, unlike insects. Additionally, the presence of centipedes in an ecosystem can indicate a healthy and balanced environment, as they play a role in controlling populations of other small invertebrates. Overall, centipedes are adaptable creatures that thrive in environments where moisture, shelter, and potential prey sources are abundant.


When Are Centipedes Active?


Centipedes are predominantly nocturnal creatures, meaning they are most active during the nighttime hours. This behavior is likely due to their sensitivity to light and their preference for cooler, more humid conditions. During the day, centipedes often seek out shelter in dark and damp places to avoid direct sunlight, which can cause them to dry out.


As night falls and temperatures drop, centipedes emerge from their hiding spots to hunt for food. They are skilled predators, preying on insects and other small invertebrates. Their excellent sense of touch, smell, and vibration detection helps them navigate in the darkness and locate prey. Centipedes’ nighttime activity also serves as a strategy to avoid predators that might be active during the day.


While centipedes are generally more active at night, some species may also exhibit limited activity during the early morning or late afternoon when temperatures are milder. Their activity patterns can be influenced by factors such as temperature, humidity, and the availability of food sources.


What Do Centipedes Eat?


Centipedes are carnivorous arthropods that primarily feed on a diet of insects and other small invertebrates. They are skilled predators, using their venomous fangs to subdue and immobilize their prey. Common prey items include ants, spiders, beetles, cockroaches, and various types of larvae.


Centipedes are well adapted for hunting, with their specialized front legs equipped with sharp claws that help them capture and hold onto their prey. They use their venom to paralyze or kill their victims, making it easier to consume them.


Their diet varies based on their size and habitat. Smaller centipedes might focus on smaller insects and tiny invertebrates, while larger species can tackle bigger prey like larger insects and even small rodents.


Centipedes are important contributors to controlling pest populations in their ecosystems. They help maintain the balance of other invertebrate populations and are considered beneficial in moderation. However, in certain cases, an overpopulation of centipedes can indicate an imbalance or the presence of excessive prey species, which might warrant attention.


Most Common Species of Centipedes


Some of the most common species of centipedes include:


  • House centipede, commonly found indoors
  • Soil centipede, commonly found in gardens and soil
  • Giant desert centipede, found in arid regions of North America
  • Tropical centipede, widespread in tropical and subtropical regions.
  • Stone centipede, also known as the bark centipede
  • Common desert centipede, found in desert environments


These species vary in size, habitat preferences, and venom potency.


Centipede in natural environment


Signs Of A Centipede Infestation


Signs of a centipede infestation often include the presence of these creatures in and around your living spaces. You might notice centipedes crawling along walls, floors, or ceilings, especially during the night. Dark and damp areas like bathrooms, basements, and crawl spaces are common locations for centipede activity. Finding shed exoskeletons is another sign, as centipedes molt to grow, leaving behind these delicate remnants.


Since centipedes are predators, their presence can indicate an underlying issue with a high population of their prey, such as insects and other small invertebrates. If you notice an increase in other pest populations, it might attract centipedes to your home.


It’s important to note that centipedes are generally not harmful to humans and might even help control other pests. However, if you’re seeing a large number of centipedes or they’re causing discomfort, it could be an indication of a larger pest ecosystem that might need attention. 


How To Prevent Centipedes


To prevent a centipede infestation, focus on creating an environment that is less hospitable to these creatures. Start by reducing excess moisture in and around your home, as centipedes are drawn to damp areas. Fix leaky pipes, ensure proper drainage, and use dehumidifiers in basements and other humid spaces. Seal cracks and crevices in walls, floors, and foundations to deny centipedes entry points.


Minimize clutter in dark and hidden spaces, as centipedes like to hide in these areas. Regularly clean and vacuum your home, paying attention to corners, baseboards, and under furniture. Reduce potential food sources by keeping your home free of other pests.


Outdoors, maintain a well-kept garden and yard, clearing away debris that can provide shelter for centipedes and their prey. Trim plants and shrubs away from the building to prevent easy access. Applying barrier treatments around your home or business’s perimeter can help deter centipedes from entering.


By addressing these factors, you can significantly reduce the likelihood of a centipede infestation and create an environment that is less attractive to these creatures. That being said, expert pest control may be the necessary next step in removing centipedes from your property completely. Our expert Twin-Boro technicians are trained to know exactly what to look for during an inspection, which means they can tell you right away the severity of the infestation as well as if it is accompanied by other, underlying pest problems. Call our office today to set up a free inspection.  

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