House centipedes are fascinating creatures that often make their way into our homes. These arthropods have a unique appearance, with their long, flattened bodies and numerous legs. Typically found in damp and dark environments, house centipedes can be seen in basements, storage areas, and even under logs or rocks outdoors.
The lifespan of house centipedes may come as a surprise to many, as some species can live up to six years. As the only species capable of reproducing in our homes, the house centipede can become a common sight, especially in areas with high humidity.
As we delve deeper into the world of house centipedes, it is important to understand their behavior and preferred living conditions. This knowledge can guide us in managing their presence and appreciating the role they play in our ecosystem.
House Centipede Basics
Centipede vs Spider
House centipedes and spiders are both arthropods, but they differ in several ways. Here’s a comparison table of their features:
|30 (15 pairs)
|2 (Cephalothorax & Abdomen)
|Moist & dark areas
House centipedes possess several key arthropod features:
- Exoskeleton: A hard, protective outer covering.
- Jointed appendages: Legs and antennae that allow for better movement and sensing capabilities.
- Segmented body: Multiple body segments, each with a pair of legs in centipedes.
- Molting: Shedding their exoskeleton to allow for growth.
Scutigera coleoptrata is the scientific name for the common house centipede. Here are a few characteristics of this species:
- Origin: Native to the Mediterranean region, but now widespread throughout the world1.
- Habitat: Moist and dark areas, including basements, closets, and bathrooms2.
- Appearance: 1 1/2 inches long, with 15 pairs of long, slender legs; brown to grayish-yellow body with three dark stripes on top3.
- Lifespan: House centipedes can live over one year and breed slowly4.
- Diet: Predatory arthropod, feeding on insects, spiders, and other small creatures.
Habitat and Distribution
House centipedes prefer dark and damp spaces indoors, making them common inhabitants of basements, bathrooms, and crawl spaces. They are often found hiding in cracks and crevices, where they can maintain a higher level of humidity. Some examples of indoor habitats where house centipedes are frequently found include:
- Damp basements
- Leaky bathrooms
- Humid crawl spaces
Outdoors, house centipedes can be discovered in various moist environments such as:
- Rotting logs
- Potting soil
- Leaf litter
These settings provide the necessary moisture and soil conditions for house centipedes to thrive. They seek the protection and humidity these habitats offer.
Regions of Presence
Originally from the Mediterranean region, house centipedes have now spread to different parts of the world, including North America. In the United States, they are commonly found inside homes and buildings, particularly in temperate zones like Connecticut1. Here’s a table showing the regions where house centipedes are present:
In summary, house centipedes live in various indoor and outdoor habitats with humidity and moisture. They have a worldwide distribution, but are particularly common in temperate zones of the United States.
Anatomy and Physiology
Body and Legs
The house centipede’s body is brown to grayish-yellow, with three dark stripes on top. It has a flattened, segmented structure, giving it a distinctive appearance.
- Segments: Up to 1 1/2 inches long
House centipedes possess 15 pairs of legs, with each pair attached to a body segment. These long, slender legs increase in length from the front to the back of the body.
- Leg appearance: Almost thread-like, with dark and white bands
- Leg function: Help in capturing prey, thanks to their barbed nature
Antennae and Eyes
House centipedes have long, slender antennae that aid in navigation and sensing their environment. These creatures also have well-developed, faceted, compound eyes, unlike many other centipede species. This characteristic allows them to see better and navigate their surroundings more effectively.
Example: The house centipede’s eyes can detect movement and light changes, enabling them to locate and capture small prey like insects.
Comparison between House Centipede and Other Centipedes
|15 pairs, banded, barbed, increase in length
|Varies, mostly shorter, non-banded, non-barbed
|Well-developed, faceted, compound eyes
|Often less-developed or lacking compound eyes
|Brown to grayish-yellow, flattened, segmented
|Varies, often cylindrical, segmented
|Primarily indoors, can be found in moist areas
|More commonly found outdoors, in soil and leaf litter
House Centipedes in Daily Life
Diet and Predators
House centipedes are known for their diverse diet, which helps them to thrive in various environments. They primarily feed on:
Being a nocturnal species, house centipedes hunt for prey during the night1. In turn, they face predators such as:
Speed and Movement
One key feature of house centipedes is their exceptional speed. They can move quickly to capture prey or escape from predators. Their unique movement is due to:
- 15 pairs of long, slender legs
- Rapid leg motion allowing for fast acceleration2
House centipedes lead a nocturnal lifestyle, which means they are active during the night and rest during the day. This behavior has several benefits:
- Enhanced ability to capture prey
- Reduced risk of being detected by predators
- Adaptation to dark and humid environments3
Reproduction and Life Cycle
Eggs and Larvae
House centipedes reproduce by laying eggs. Female house centipedes lay around 35 eggs in damp soil or under rocks, where they are somewhat protected from predators1. During the larval stage, centipedes have fewer legs, with each succeeding molt adding a new pair of legs2.
Molting and Growth
Centipedes go through a series of molts as they grow. The number of molts varies depending on the species, but it can be up to eight or more3. Key points to know:
- Molts are essential for growth
- Centipedes add legs with each molt
During this process, house centipedes will shed their exoskeleton and grow a new one, allowing them to expand as they grow in size.
Adult Life Span
House centipedes have a relatively short lifespan. On average, they live for approximately one to three years4.
- Lifespan of 1-3 years
- Growth occurs through molting5
Comparing house centipedes to other species:
|Average Life Span
|Up to 8 or more depending on species
Encounters and Interactions
Bites and Treatment
House centipedes usually avoid humans, but they may bite if threatened. Their bites can be painful but are usually not dangerous. Symptoms of a bite include:
To treat a house centipede bite:
- Clean the bite area with soap and water.
- Apply an ice pack to reduce swelling.
Benefits and Nuisances
- House centipedes help control pests such as termites, spiders, and cockroaches by eating them.
- They are a natural form of pest control.
- Their appearance can be unsettling.
- They may occasionally enter homes.
Are They Dangerous?
House centipedes have venom glands, which they use to paralyze their prey.
Although they have venom, a house centipede’s bite typically doesn’t pose a serious threat to humans. However, individuals with allergies to insect stings should exercise caution.
Dangerous or Not?
In summary, house centipedes are generally not dangerous to humans. Their bites can cause pain and irritation but aren’t life-threatening. They are more of a nuisance but also provide some benefits in controlling other pests.
Control and Prevention
Pest Control Methods
Controlling house centipedes (Scutigera coleoptrata) typically involves using chemical or non-chemical methods. Some common chemical options include:
- Pesticides: Apply them specifically to problem areas, like cracks and crevices, where centipedes are likely to hide.
- Residual sprays: These can be applied around the perimeter of your home to deter centipedes from entering.
Non-chemical methods include:
- Sticky traps: Place them near areas where centipedes are frequently seen to catch them.
- Sealing gaps: Close off cracks and crevices to eliminate centipede hiding spots.
Some natural remedies for controlling house centipedes include:
- Diatomaceous earth: This natural powder is effective against centipedes by damaging their exoskeleton and causing dehydration.
- Essential oils: A mix of peppermint, eucalyptus, or tea tree oil can repel centipedes when applied around the home.
Creating Unfavorable Conditions
Making your home less attractive to centipedes involves reducing moisture and limiting food sources. Consider implementing the following measures:
- Dehumidifiers: Install them in damp areas to reduce humidity.
- Fans: Utilizing fans can improve air circulation and decrease moisture levels.
- Eliminate clutter: Organizing and cleaning your home minimizes potential hiding spots.
- Pest control: By reducing the presence of other pests, you decrease the house centipede’s food sources.
Remember, early intervention and education are essential for effectively controlling and preventing house centipede infestations in the U.S.
Identification and Expertise
Morphology and Characteristics
House centipedes belong to the Scutigeromorpha order, and their unique morphology sets them apart from other centipedes.
- Brown to grayish-yellow body
- Three dark stripes on top
- Up to 1.5 inches long
- 15 pairs of long, slender legs with dark and white bands
- Flattened, segmented bodies with one pair of legs per segment (source)
These creatures are not herbivores or detritivores but feed on small arthropods, including pest insects like firebrats and carpet beetle larvae, and even bed bugs. They prefer damp environments and can be found hiding in closets, under potted plants, or amongst firewood (source).
|Carpet Beetle Larvae
If you are unsure about identifying house centipedes or getting rid of them, consult with professionals who have expertise in the Myriapoda class. These experts can help with:
- Proper identification of centipedes and other pests
- Assessing the situation and extent of infestation
- Recommending appropriate treatment methods and prevention measures
- Setting up sticky traps in strategic locations to control infestations
Professionals can also help you differentiate between house centipedes and their prey, such as firebrats or carpet beetle larvae, and provide guidance on overall pest management.
Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – Newest Winner in the House Centipede Photo Contest
Can you ever have enough centipede pictures? I wanted to provide a point of reference to this picture, but I was afraid of spooking the bug. This critter was hanging out on my bedroom wall. I estimate the main body length to be about 2." How about a contest for the best dead centipede? Every now and then I come across a dead one in the basement. They have a very unique way of dying!
Tom S, Minneapolis
In the unlikely event that we would ever run a best dead House Centiped photo contest, we would have to limit it to a natural death since we do not condone the carnage. Barring that contest, we have decided to award you the Newest Best House Centipede Photo award.
Letter 2 – House Centipede: Dead because it lived in a sack of potatoes
What is it?
Location: Portland, OR
May 17, 2011 3:21 am
A friend found this in a bag of potatoes at work. What the hell is it?
Signature: Vincent B. Dastardly
Dear Vincent B. Dastardly,
This is a harmless, beneficial House Centipede and now it is dead. House Centipedes will help to keep the home free of Cockroaches and other undesirable creatures by feeding upon them at night. They are shy, elusive creatures that can run quite quickly on those sixteen pairs of legs.
Letter 3 – Two Dead House Centipedes killed hours apart
PLEASE IDENTIFY THIS DISGUSTING BUG FROM PITTSBURGH
Mon, Jun 1, 2009 at 8:58 PM
This type of bug has appeared 3-4 times in our house in the past 1-3 weeks.
Tonight I had to take a picture of it after we killed it.
It’s got to be poisonous, it’s terrrrible looking.
It’s got like 6 or 10 legs and it is just uggggly.
We live right near a ‘forest’ and honestly, JUST now, my roomate discovered another one as I’m typing.
What should we tell our exterminator!!!
What should we buy to protect ourselves
Thank you so much
Pittsburgh, PA, in basement 2bedroom living quarter
Mon, Jun 1, 2009 at 6:29 PM
First, I must say there are some great pictures on your site. I scrolled through everything to try to find an answer, but I don’t even know what category this fits into. You may be able to tell that this bug was squished, so I’ll give you details the picture might not show. It’s just over an inch long and its antennae were quite long (almost as long as the body?) Unfortunately I can’t tell whether it has legs or not, but its underbelly appears to have several tiny ridges. The 3 vertical stripes are quite distinctive. I live in Windsor, ON (directly across the border from Detroit) and found it in my bedroom this evening. We’ve had some water damage in the house and also have carpenter ants (which I confirmed from several pictures here – thanks!). As well it has been humid here lately, so I’m not sure if that’s a factor.
Any insight you could provide would be appreciated.
Many thanks, Cheryl
Whoops! Cancel that email!
Mon, Jun 1, 2009 at 8:07 PM
Sent you an email earlier tonight entitled “Unnecessary Carnage?” and have discovered, to my embarrassment, that it is in fact a house centipede. I moved so quickly to kill the poor bugger that I didn’t see all of the legs (and wasn’t about to pick its corpse apart to investigate).
I’ve bookmarked your site so I can identify the next critter that makes itself known! 😉
Many thanks (again), Cheryl
Dear Henry and Cheryl,
You have both unnecessarily exterminated a harmless House Centipede. They do look frightening, and though they have venom, the venom is harmless to humans in the extremely unlikely scenario that they might bite someone. You are far better off having House Centipedes patrolling your homes at night, dispatching Bed Bugs whose populations are on the rise, than you would be getting bitten by the Bed Bugs. No exterminators are necessary.
Unnecessary Carnage Update
September 18, 2009
My Unnecessary Carnage 🙁
I just found your website while researching the bug that I have squished (although not confirmed). I was sitting in my darkened living room in the wee hours of the night and caught some rapid movement from the corner of my eye. I quickly turned on a light and settled back on the sofa. Perhaps five minutes later I saw a large bug on my ceiling, which through your site I have identified as a House Centipede. I have seen other bugs of this type and have not been bothered as they are a fairly small bug and the only things that really bother me are spiders – I’m arachnophobic after a traumatic (for me and possibly the spider) experience but I don’t typically kill spiders just make sure I know where they are at all times, avoid them if possible or await their relocation or sadly, their ‘remo val’. Alas, I digress – back to the event from today. As I said I have seen others of this type of centipede before and they didn’t bother me but this specimen was quite large. It appeared to be at least 2 inches long, and looked much bigger/wider due to the many legs. Since it was on my ceiling and they move so fast I felt I had 2 options: leave it or try to get rid of it. I chose the second and grabbed my broom. I swatted at it and it fell to the floor, camouflaged by the beige carpeting and dashed for the nearest hiding spot, under a cabinet, with me swatting at it. I am not positive that I extinguished its life and kept a vigil for 5-10 minutes and didn’t see any signs of it. I think their speed would impede their safe removal in the future. Is there any way to safely remove them? I find bugs fascinating when I happen upon them outside. I am originally from Eastern Canada and have been living and enjoying the variety of bugs here – I was very excited to see a praying man tis and even a Hercules beetle. I don’t go out of my way to look f or them but feel the need to do something if I see them and I’d much prefer to escort them safely outside. I am sorry that I killed (maybe) the bug and would really appreciate some feedback.
Sarah in VA
Thanks for your nice letter. Since it came in as a comment not connected to a specific post, we are attaching it to two previous letters with the shared subject matter of House Centipedes killed unnecessarily. First off, we are going to let you off the guilty hook because we don’t believe you killed that fast little bugger. House Centipedes are quite evasive. As far as advising you on how to best remove them, we don’t really have any suggestions. House Centipedes seem quite fond of human domiciles, and they easily enter homes. As you noted, they are so quick, it is difficult to capture them. Dare we suggest that you just learn to coexist? Since you are arachnophobic, the House Centipede will most likely help keep your indoor spider population under control as well as feasting on other undesirable intruders like cockroaches.
Letter 4 – Vegetarian House Centipede
Proof that House Centipedes like to also get a good dose of vegetables.
We can only guess your House Centipede has read Fast Food Nation. Seriously, maybe it is about the water supply.
Letter 5 – House Centipede: Rescue and Leg Regrowth
Subject: House Centipedes
December 10, 2016 6:34 am
I am a great fan of your site, especially since there seems to be no shortage of interesting photos of unidentified invertebrates from around the world. Among these, there is truly a wealth of Scutigeromorpha pictures on this site, and what saddens me is that most of them are smashed into oblivion.
I’ve always liked centipedes. The local library had a sizable centipede population, and I would discreetly capture and release said centipedes, which are largely gone now due to construction. When I visited my cousins nearby, I noticed they had a house centipede infestation in their backyard, in a leaf pile. Most of these were smaller than a penny and pale gray. My cousins said they rarely saw them inside. Then, my uncle returned with a load of bricks in his car, and among them were a juvenile five-lined skink and the largest house centipede I’ve ever seen. Both escaped uncaught. But then, the next day, I saw a young house centipede dangling in a spiderweb with all of its left legs gone. I rescued the poor ‘pede and as my cousins watched, fed it some spiders. Soon, after, another, smaller house centipede was found. After delivering a “no-kill” lecture to my cousins, I took the ‘pedes home as pets. Soon after their capture and subsequent feeding, both centipedes molted. What was truly amazing was the first centipede regrew all of its missing legs! Two molts later, both ‘pedes are doing fine in separate containers with substrate and bark. I would like to know if these Scutigeromorphae are different species; one is tan and the other is very dark. Also, how large does the average Scutigera coleoptrata get? What temperatures are required for the winter? Thanks for the answers and speedy reply that I know will come!
P.S. : Perhaps I will eventually email you guys a story about my encounters with praying mantids over the summer.
First we need to tell you how much we enjoyed your submission, and because of your attempts to relocate House Centipedes and to educate your relatives, we are tagging your submission with the Bug Humanitarian Award. We have read before that partial leg regeneration may be possible with young centipedes and spiders, and according to About Education: “Should a centipede find itself in the grip of a bird or other predator, it can often escape by sacrificing a few legs. The bird is left with a beak full of legs, and the clever centipede makes a fast escape on those that remain. Since centipedes continue to molt as adults, they can usually repair the damage by simply regenerating legs. If you find a centipede with a few legs that are shorter than the others, it’s likely in the process of recovering from a predator attack.” According to BugGuide, the House Centipede family Scutigeridae has only two genera, and one of them, Dendrothereua, is found west of the Mississippi River based on BugGuide date. The other genera contains only the species known commonly as the House Centipede according to BugGuide, so our best guess is that despite the differing coloration, both of your individuals are the common House Centipede, Scutigera coleoptrata. Based on BugGuide information: “Indoors they are likely to be found at all times of the year provided they have warmth and available prey. In the north they will only be found outside during Summer.” That leads us to speculate that you should not let temperatures get below 40 degrees Fahrenheit if they cannot shelter without freezing. BugGuide lists the size as “body length to 3 cm (1.2 inches)” but that does not include the long legs.
Letter 6 – Legless House Centipede
Subject: What is this?
Location: Central Ohio, USA
August 13, 2015 3:02 pm
Emptied my clothes dryer and found this critter amongst my laundry. Is this the larval stage of some basement critter or something that hitchhiked in our clothing? It’s about 1-1/8″ long. Thanks.
This House Centipede is missing all 30 of its legs, and we can only imagine the agonizing death it experienced in your dryer.
The horror! The horror!
PS, by the way, we leave the house centipedes be in our basement, as they help clean-up.
(I found my glasses)
Letter 7 – Winner in the House Centipede Photo Contest!!!
house centipede shots
Hi folks! Well your site allowed to immediately identify my bug. I am an amateur macro-nature photographer, and I cleaned out an unfinished musty basement after 30 years of unuse. I thought I had gotten rid of most of the bugs, and then as I tried to open a stuck window, and had my face really close to the pane…BLAMMO, there was this 2-inch monster, unlike any of the zillions of bugs I have seen. This is a really large pic — but I thought I’d give you the full resolution, and you can do what you want with it. I took like 20 pics and could not get my camera to focus until I switched to "spot-focus" and pointed at the center of the stripey fella. He stayed completely motionless until I really jolted the window — his motion was fast and fluid and scared the crap out of me. I think I may win the best house centipede pic trophy! well enjoy!
Bryan Jaicks, Jersey City, NJ
I don’t know which is better, your superbe image or your colorful written account. At any rate, we are declaring you the winner in the House Centipede photo contest, though it really didn’t exist until your photo arrived. We are going to give it a permanent place at the top of our Centipede page..
Letter 8 – House Centipede: Unnecessary Carnage and Forgiveness granted!!
Please tell me I didn’t kill it.
At first I was astonished by its majestic shape (hence the picture), but after ten minutes of it just staring at me, I freaked and washed this centipede, which occupied my kitchen sink, down the drain with tap water. It put up a good fight and didn’t seem to mind it for the most part.
a friend directed me to your site and now I am ashamed of my ignorance and my reaction. I have never seen anything like it and obviously overreacted.
Could you pass on my apology? being a bugman and all.
We and the House Centipede forgive you because we know it won’t happen again.
Letter 9 – House Centipede: dead by unknown causes
Can You tell me is this ……. Hi
My Name is Osiris and I live in NY and live in ah private home recently I have been spotting and killing ah type of bug of which I find very repulsive because it has very long legs and 3 tails on both sides, I have found then in my basement near de boiler room and also in between doorways. I have killed about 6 of them and of which 4 were very big like about ah inch long and the rest were half inch non the les I found something similar to it called ah silver fish but as I see the pictures it does not exactly look like the ones in my house. I hope you can tell what kind of bug it is I took some pictures of it.
House Centipedes are your friends. They will kill and eat Roaches.
Letter 10 – House Centipede: victimized for lack of dreaminess
Long and Lean NOT every young girls dream!
Location: Hamlet, North Carolina
August 8, 2010 11:35 pm
Found this thing slithering along a base board in my son’ bedroom. What is it??
While the lowly House Centipede may appear frightening, and it may not fulfill many expectations in the dreaminess department, it is nonetheless a beneficial predator. Tolerating its presence may help to prevent the proliferation of every homemaker’s nightmare, an infestation of Cockroaches. House Centipedes are harmless nocturnal predators that prey upon spiders and other unwanted insects and arthropods that enter the home and become a nuisance or otherwise cause harm or damage. We would encourage you to be tolerant the next time you see a House Centipede scurrying around indoors.
Thank you for identifying him for us. Had I seen it, I would have just removed him outside. My son (who killed it) has autism and he has a great fear of unknown bugs. I’ve tried to teach him to trap the bug and then show it to me, but he still kills them. 🙁
I will be sure to let him know the bug is fine and explain to him their importance as well as their significance in the meaning of homeostasis. Again, thank you for your quick reply. You have just prevented any future demise to the house centipede. 🙂
Letter 11 – House Centipedes
Your site is GREAT!
I just wanted to say "thanks" for what I consider, a great site. We’ve been finding what we describe as "very scary monsters" in random areas of our home and we able to quickly identify them as "house centipedes" on your site. We’ve since bought some bug spray, as nobody in my house will even go near them with anything, and are quite relived to know that they are "harmless", although I do find it hard to believe and will continue to run like the wind when I encounter them….. They really are some of the scariest and grossest things I’ve even seen.
Melinda from Montreal, Quebec.
Letter 12 – House Centipedes as Pets
Subject: Scutigera coleoptrata
Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
November 9, 2012 11:09 pm
My kids found little Silvio Berlusconi (on the left) in our house and got him into a jar. Centipedes give me the willies, but I know in my head they are good guys/gals so I have been getting to know him. Then my neighbor caught a really big one in her house and gave him to me. I named the big one Lady Gaga. Amazing things – they groom themselves like dogs or cats, one limb at a time and then the antennae. Cute little faces too. This is my way of trying to get over my anxiety; get to know the ”enemy” and find out they’re not the enemy? Must be some evolutionary throwback in the genes that really frightens me badly when I see these things. Anyway, maybe readers will be encouraged to explore, face fears, learn new things. 🙂
Signature: Ann Graf
Thanks for sending us your photos and observations of your captive “pet” House Centipedes. We are thrilled to learn that you are coping with your fears in a positive manner, and for your curiosity and efforts to educate yourself, we are awarding you with the Bug Humanitarian Award.
I am honored. Thank you!
Letter 13 – House Centipedes and Roaches
I just wanted to say thank you for maintaining this site. I have lived in NYC my whole life and am only afraid of what I call waterbugs. REally large , able to fly roaches) When we moved into our new apartment in Astoria, NY we had an infestation of what my husband called house centipedes. They are very common on your site. I hate these too. However if as you say they eating roaches then they might be my new best friends. But I wish they wouldn’t crawl on the wall over my bed. I am going to share you site with my educator friends.
Letter 14 – Slaughtered House Centipede
eek, a bug!
My name is Jessica. Attached, you will find an image of a bug that i’ve unfortunately encountered many a time since moving into my apartment. The maintenance folks here at the complex have told me it’s a centipede, but i don’t buy that. I’ve googled every possile description of the thing that i could concoct, to no avail. However, with much luck I did stumble upon your site. In the photo, the little guy is missing some legs. I tried for a live shot, but these things are quick! I live in Irvine, California and have been told that my monstrous friends come from underground. Also, rumor has it they have a “nasty bite.” So, dear bugman, I am desperately curious. Can you tell me who this mystery bug is? Sincerely,
If you had just believed the maintenance folk and typed “Centipede” into your search engine, you might have gotten your answer. When we tried that tactic, the first site that came up was devoted to the House Centipede, your creature. Perhaps your perspective on the House Centipede was different than ours, hence your lack of googling success. Perhaps your description was something akin to “flying purple people eater” or maybe “sea monster from the depths” and that led you astray. We tried “insect many legs fast” (even though the House Centipede is not an insect) and were led to several sites with the correct answer, including our own Centipede page. All we can advise in the future is for you to choose your descriptive words carefully and accurately. Mastering search engines is a wonderful talent, and we can’t imagine how today’s students could complete research papers without the talent now that classics like Encyclopedia Britannica are no longer readily available in homes. House Centipedes are harmless predators, and the poor arthropod did not warrant your wrath. There was no need for such Unnecessary Carnage.