Centipedes may not be the most welcome guests in our homes, but these many-legged critters do serve a purpose. They are known to feed on other small arthropods such as silverfish, firebrats, carpet beetle larvae, cockroaches, and spiders, which might actually help keep other pests in check. However, if you’ve noticed an increase in centipedes around your home, it’s time to take action.
Getting rid of centipedes involves making your living space less attractive to these critters and using some natural, non-toxic methods to keep them at bay. For example, one effective approach is to use essential oils like cedar and peppermint as a natural repellent. Simply mix 20-50 drops of your chosen essential oil with water in a spray bottle and saturate entry points or areas where you’ve spotted centipedes. This will create an environment they’re not fond of and help repel them from your space.
Common Centipede Species
- Scutigera coleoptrata: Commonly known as the house centipede, this species is brown to grayish-yellow and has three dark stripes on top. With segmented bodies, they can grow up to 1 1/2 inches long and have 15 pairs of long, thread-like legs.(source)
- Oklahoma Centipede: This species can vary in length from one to 12 inches, with the total number of legs varying from 10 to 100 or more. They are typically two to six inches long.(source)
Centipede Behavior and Habitat
Centipedes are predators that primarily feed on insects, spiders, and other small arthropods. They are most active at night and prefer to hide in dark, damp areas. House centipedes, for example, feed on silverfish, firebrats, carpet beetle larvae, cockroaches, and spiders. The presence of centipedes indicates an abundance of prey arthropods (source).
Dangers of Centipede Infestations
Centipedes have forcipules, which are modified legs that act as pincers for injecting venom. They use their venom to paralyze their prey and as a defense mechanism. Although rare, centipede bites can happen if they feel threatened or are handled roughly.
|Up to 1 1/2 inches long
|1 to 12 inches long
|5 to 50 pairs
|Brown to grayish-yellow
|Three dark stripes on top
|Dark, damp areas
|Dark, damp areas
|Insects, spiders, small arthropods
|Insects, spiders, small arthropods
|Possibility of Bites
|Rare but possible
|Rare but possible
Note: Centipede bites are generally harmless to humans, but some people may experience mild to moderate discomfort, itching, swelling, and redness in the affected area. In some cases, individuals can have an allergic reaction to the venom, requiring medical attention.
Preventing Centipede Infestations
Seal Cracks and Entry Points
One of the easiest ways to prevent centipede infestations is by sealing cracks and entry points around your home. Common areas to inspect include:
For example, use expanding foam to fill large gaps and weatherstripping for windows and door frames.
Reduce Moisture and Humidity
Centipedes thrive in damp environments. To control their presence, focus on reducing moisture and humidity in places like:
Using a dehumidifier can help in maintaining an ideal humidity level below 50%. Regularly check and fix any leaks in plumbing and remove standing water.
Proper Storage of Firewood and Organic Debris
Storage of firewood and organic debris plays a crucial role in centipede prevention. Some best practices include:
- Storing firewood off the ground and away from your home
- Regularly clearing leaf litter, dead plants, and mulch from the perimeter
These measures help in eliminating their hiding spots and potential food sources like spiders, roaches, and silverfish.
Maintain a Clean and Clutter-Free Environment
A clean and clutter-free environment can help in preventing centipede infestations. Some essential tips include:
- Vacuum and dust regularly, targeting areas like baseboards and corners
- Keep furniture and items off the floor to minimize hiding places
For natural ways to repel centipedes, consider using peppermint oil or vinegar in your cleaning routine. By performing these tasks, you are not only keeping centipedes at bay but also other pests like bed bugs, cockroaches, and millipedes.
|Sealing cracks and entry points
|Effective in keeping pests out
|May require some DIY skills
|Reducing moisture and humidity
|Makes the environment less attractive
|Dehumidifiers may increase energy usage
|Proper storage of debris
|Eliminates hiding places and food
|Requires regular maintenance of the yard
|Clean and clutter-free space
|Prevents various pests, not only centipedes
|Requires regular cleaning and organization
Centipede Control Methods
Using Mechanical Traps
One effective way to control centipedes is through the use of mechanical traps. Sticky traps, for example, are non-toxic and can be placed in areas where centipedes are frequently spotted, both indoors and outside. They are simple to set up and easily catch house centipedes, as well as other nuisance insects.
Pros of using mechanical traps:
- Easy to set up
- Can be used both indoors and outdoors
Cons of using mechanical traps:
- Might require frequent replacement
- May not be as effective on larger infestations
Applying Insecticides and Chemical Sprays
Another approach is using insecticides or chemical sprays. These can help you target specific areas where centipedes are known to be present and reduce their populations. Be sure to carefully follow instructions on the product label and consult a professional exterminator if you’re unsure about the proper application.
Pros of using insecticides and chemical sprays:
- Can target specific areas
- Effective in reducing centipede populations
Cons of using insecticides and chemical sprays:
- Chemical exposure risks
- Potential harm to non-target organisms
Comparison Table: Mechanical Traps vs. Insecticides and Chemical Sprays
|Non-toxic, easy to set up, versatile
|May require frequent replacement
|Targets specific areas, effective
|Chemical exposure risks, potential harm
Seeking Professional Exterminators
For larger centipede infestations, or if you’re not comfortable tackling the problem yourself, consider seeking the help of a professional exterminator. Companies like Orkin and Terminix provide pest control services that can effectively handle centipede infestations. The cost of hiring a professional exterminator may be higher, but the results are generally more reliable.
Pros of hiring a professional exterminator:
- Expertise in eradicating centipedes and other pests
- Reliable and effective solutions
Cons of hiring a professional exterminator:
- Higher cost compared to DIY methods
Overall, choosing the right method for centipede control depends on the severity of the infestation and your comfort level.
Letter 1 – Soil Centipede
Subject: scared to find this in house!
Location: Northern California
December 20, 2014 10:02 pm
Hello bugman – was just putting daughter to bed when she saw this crawling down the wall right behind her pillow! She said, “What is that?”
It went fairly easily into the cup and I was able to toss it outside where the spiders go . . . but I am wondering whether it’s a centipede, millipede, or something else? And should I be worried or is it harmless? Sorry if this is repetitive for you but to me this is completely new! Just for info I am in the suburbs of the East San Francisco Bay Area in California.
Thank you so much!
This appears to be a Soil Centipede in the order Geophilomorpha, and according to BugGuide they are: “Slender, rather sluggish eyeless centipedes that have 27 to 191 pairs (the number of leg pairs is always odd) of legs and 14-segmented antennae. They burrow in the substrate in a manner similar to earthworms, by elongating and contracting their bodies.” According to MOBugs: “No need to fear these centipedes, as they will not bite humans, and have no toxic venom to harm us even if they could. They prey on many harmful beetle larvae and help aerate the soil, much like earthworms do. Their rapid movements and subterranean habitat can make them a bit unnerving, but like all insects and their relatives, they have their purpose in the environment, and these guys are fun to watch!” According to SFGate: “Soil centipedes (geophilomorpha) are very small and possess many pairs of legs, often exceeding 60 pairs. These centipedes live in the ground, where they prey on subterranean insects. They are completely harmless.” We don’t want to give the appearance of sensationalism, but we don’t want to discount the possibility of a Soil Centipede seeking shelter in a nasal passage, ear canal or other orifice, which we believe would be a very unlikely situation, however we did uncover some interesting information when we posted this account of a Soil Centipede.
Letter 2 – Soil Centipede
Subject: What’s the Bug
Location: South Dennis, MA 02660
December 10, 2016 10:25 am
Found this in between the sheets of a newly opened roll of paper towels. Looks like a soil centipede to me but I’m not 100% certain. It’s about 2 1/2 to 3 inches long and the color in the photo is accurate to the bug in real life. Any thoughts? Thank you,
Signature: Mario John
Letter 3 – Soil Centipede found glowing in bed in England
Subject: Bug found in bed!
Location: Norfolk, England
March 2, 2016 2:14 am
I found this in my bed last night. I woke up at about 3am and I swear I saw something small glowing in the dark under my thin topsheet. I panicked and threw the blanket off, once I turned on the lights I saw this. What is it? How did it get into my apartment situated on the third floor? Will they keep appearing, eggs? This isnt the first time I have found one of these, I found one in my kitchen a few months back but thought nothing of it.
This is not the first posting we have received regarding a bioluminescent Soil Centipede in the order Geophilomorpha. When we posted images of a Fire Centipede from Gabon, we did much research, but alas, the link to information on Geophilus carpophagus from the Natural England website appears to be broken and no longer active. Apheloria has information on a bioluminescent Centipede from Thailand including: “The centipede … glows … and displays a pair of luminous green spots” and “The genus Orphnaeus, in the order Geophilomorpha, are bioluminescent centipedes that are distributed throughout the Old World Tropics including Africa, Central and South America, Southeast Asia, and Hawaii. Orphnaeus (pronounced “orf-nee-us”) is in my opinion a better candidate for the maeng-kah-reaung; however, I’m almost certain they do not crawl into folks’ ears. They do, according to Kim, smell like poop. (That said, If any myriapod is a candidate for crawling into ears, it’s centipedes – as they are fast, flexible, and cunning!)” EakringBirds has a Centipedes and Millipedes of Nottinghamshire page with a heading “Confirmation of bioluminescence produced by Geophilus easoni” where it states “We also wanted complete confirmation to our initial identification of G. easoni, ending the still scientifically unknown answer to the question, as to precisely which Centipede (or possibly Centipedes) has the ability to create its own bioluminescence. So two specimens were sent to Tony Barber of the British Myriapod and Isopod Study Group, who quickly confirmed that both were indeed Geophilus easoni. It seems strange that no one had determined bioluminescence in Centipedes before, although G. easoni had been quoted as being bioluminescent by at least one earlier author. The rarity of such reports may have been why no one has spent any time researching the subject. Three nocturnal path walks in April and May 2013, yielded a total of 20 G. easoni (identification later confirmed before release). Out of the total, 16 produced varying degrees of bioluminescence. Variability was recorded in the length of time bioluminescence lasted, exactly where bioluminescence was emitted from over the length of the Centipede and the release or non-release of bioluminescent fluid which was found to have a distinct odour akin to a sweet urine smell. Specimens in the larger size range (probably all mature females) seemed to react better than smaller specimens.” We are relatively certain your Soil Centipede is Geophilus easoni. You might also find this other, well researched posting of a Soil Centipede interesting.
Letter 4 – Soil Centipede
Saturday 18 April 2009, 5:30 PM
We turned over a rock in the garden today and were surprised by this large Soil Centipede.
According to BugGuide, it is in the genus Strigamia, but there is virtually no information. The Soil Centipede page for the Order Geophilomorpha has a bit more information, including: “Size Most are less than 5 cm, some reach 17 cm. (1)
Identification Slender eyeless centipedes that have 31 to 177 pairs of legs and antennae with 14 segments. The number of pairs of legs is always odd. (1)
Habitat They can penetrate as deep as 70 cm into soil and feed on insect larvae and worms.”
Our own observation included that this overthree inch long specimen could move equally proficiently in reverse, with the entire centipede walking backwards. It was very difficult for us to take these images. The camera no longer autofoces, and the batteries were dying. We had to shut the camera off after almost every image, and then refocus each time. The Soil Centipede was moving quickly and was difficult to focus on. A straight line measured on today’s LA Times from the s in Washington to the u in discuss is 2 7/8 inches, and that doesn’t include the bend in the Soil Centipede’s body.
Letter 5 – Stone Centipede
This Guy Looks Like A Biter
Location: Venice, CA
April 27, 2012 8:09 pm
I found this half-pinkey sized friend in my parking garage. Looks like some type of centipede with nasty looking pincers. I’m not sure what type, nor have I have ever seen one quite like it around here before. I made sure he scurried over to a drain to avoid being crunched. Thanks for your help in identifying this prehistoric looking beauty!
We believe this is a Stone Centipede in the order Lithobiomorpha based on counting the legs on your individual which concurs with this description on BugGuide: “Adults have 15 pairs of legs and 18 body segments.” Centipedes have venom and a bite might produce a reaction.
Letter 6 – Soil Centipede from South Africa
Subject: Wuut is this?
Location: Johannesbur, South Africa
November 13, 2015 3:16 pm
I was alarmed when this little buddy fell out of the dish cloth from my hand.
I’ve never seen these before. What are they called? Its approx 5 cm long. Wriggled more than moving foward.
We believe this Centipede may be a Soil Centipede in the order Geophilomorpha, though there is nothing quite this colorful posted to iSpot.
Letter 7 – Stone Centipede
Subject: Night crawler…….
Location: Gilbert, Arizona
April 13, 2017 3:52 am
I was up at 3 am, on my phone. I felt something move on my arm, and instantly this and my brand new iphone were hurling across the room onto the tile. It must have been stunned because it took it a couple minutes to move so I could find it.
I must be done sleeping for the night because I keep having random creepy crawlie sensations.
Lived in this house 14. May not be 15….
Signature: sleepless in arizona
Dear sleepless in Arizona,
Though there isn’t much detail in your image, we can determine this Centipede has 15 pairs of legs, leading us to believe, based on BugGuide, that it is a Stone Centipede. We suspect it accidentally wandered into the house and had not been living there long.
Thank you for identifying it for me.
Letter 8 – Stone Centipede, possibly
Baby’s New Friend
Location: Southern New Jersey
September 4, 2010 2:28 pm
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my 8 month old son reaching for this fast-crawling bug! My heart nearly jumped out of my chest as I whisked him away. I don’t want to teach him to be scared of bugs, but don’t know what this is! Please help, so if I see another one I will know whether my fear is justified!
Thank you =)
Signature: Scared Mommy
Dear Scared Mommy,
What we can say for certain is that this is a Centipede and it is not a House Centipede which we tell people is a benign predator that will help keep their homes free of cockroaches and spiders. The legs on your Centipede are too short for it to be a House Centipede. The angle of your photograph with its foreshortening makes it difficult to make out details on the Centipede that might aid in our identification. This may be a Stone Centipede in the order Lithobiomorpha which BugGuide describes as having fifteen pairs of legs. That is the number we get when attempting to count on your photograph. Centipedes have fangs and venom, and though the bite is not deadly, it can be painful. The University of Kentucky Entomology website has a Centipede page with some good information, and a photo of a Stone Centipede. There is also a really nice page on the Stone Centipede on the Backyard Arthropod Project Blog about creatures from Michigan, or more specifically “A Field Guide to the North Side of Old Mill Hill, Atlantic Mine, MI.” We doubt the Stone Centipede would have bitten your son, but in the event he was bitten, there would be little more than a local reaction.
Thank you so much for your thorough response and information! Although I didn’t get a better photo of our centipede, I think your descriptions you sent seem to match what we saw. I am happy to know that the bite is not deadly, but will still try to find better playmates for our baby!
Letter 9 – The Cat Did It!!!
“Carnage” for your site
Thanks for your informative site, which I found when trying to ID an
insect shell we found on our fencepost. It was a Cicada, and your site was the best information I found on the web, leaving no question that I’d gotten the right answer. Then I was pulled into looking at all the photos and reading about all the bugs. Fascinating! Attached is a photo for your “Carnage” page, and it leads me to a question you may not be able to answer because it’s about a cat. We live in an old house and have always had an ample supply of House Centipedes in our basement. When we got a cat, our Centipede population dwindled remarkably. The thing is, though, the cat doesn’t just squash the Centipedes, and she doesn’t eat them. She pulls off their many, many legs and leaves the bodies and antennas behind! She’s incredibly neat about it, clearing all the legs (on the attached photo she happened to leave one behind, which is unusual) without marring the body or disconnecting the antennas. Is this typical cat behavior, or do we have a psycho-kitty on our hands? Should we sleep with one eye open?
I was very off-put by your subject heading and have been avoiding opening your letter. I was pleasantly surprised that some bug hater hadn’t squashed some poor critter just to get the image posted online. We are not the best choice for advice on normal cat behavior since our own Mathilda is the most neurotic cat on the planet, and the little monster brought two mice into the house this week and bit off their heads.
Letter 10 – The Creatures
Here is a letter we just love, and the original exchange can be found on the Hellgrammite page.
Hello Bug Person,
i saw your site and thought maybe you could help me and my roommate out. We have creatures . That’s what we call them, because they are unlike anything we’ve ever seen. In the last three places we’ve lived, we have seen the Creatures in our basement.
They are similar to centipedes in that they are long, have many legs, and are creepy. But that’s where the similarities end. Centipedes are flattened with legs that look like this ^ with one joint, but these Creatures have 2 joints, like spider legs. They don’t have as many as a centipede but definitely more than 8. The legs are generally the same size too, not different lengths like a house centipede. they don’t have the front "fangs" like a centipede but a mandible similar to a spider’s – no antenae-no little butt feelers. And they come in 3 different colors. I’ve seen very large ones (4-5 inches), black with
white spots; others were just as big but dark brown; and just the other day, in our new duplex, we found a little one maybe 2-3 inches long and light brown. They are very fast and i even hit one with a book, cutting off its lower half, and the rest of it got away. Yeah, these things are evil. Nobody knows what these things are. We’ve had hunters, floridians, Arizonians, and other self-proclaimed bug experts, but we always get the same thing: a hideous blank stare and lonely nights in our basement. Can you tell me what the creatures are?