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Centipedes and Millipedes

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Centipedes belonging to Phylum Arthropda, are similar to millipedes. Both are elongate and flattened, however, centipedes have only one pair of legs per body segments and have 15 or more pairs of legs. A centipede's final pair of legs is directed backwards and is different from the other legs. Antennae are long and consist of 14 or more segments. Some centipedes have eyes while others do not. Like millipedes, the centipede mouthparts are mandibles. They have two pairs of maxillae with the second pair appearing leglike. A centipedes fist segment has clawlike appendages that act as poisonous jaws.

Centipedes are generally found in unprotected areas such as in the soil or under logs. They are quick and feed on insects, spiders, and other small animals. They all possess the poisonous jaws which are used to paralyze their prey. Centipedes also overwinter as adults and lay their eggs in the summer.


CENTIPEDES                Centipede Stings                 Millipedes



Centipedes or "hundred-leggers," are elongated, flattened animals, bearing one pair of legs per body segment. The actual total number of legs in most species is closer to 30 than to 100. Adult centipedes are usually brownish and over 1 inch in length. The house centipede, a species that commonly invades buildings, has long legs that enable it to run rapidly. Unlike millipedes, centipedes never coil up when disturbed.

Habitat and Importance
Centipedes usually are found in damp, dark places, such as under stones, leaf mulch, or logs. Indoors, centipedes may occur in damp areas of basements, closets, or bathrooms, or anywhere in the home where insects occur. During the day they hide in dark cracks and crevices, coming out at night to search for insects to eat.

House centipedes are actually beneficial--they capture flies, cockroaches, and other small household pests. They never damage plants or household items.
 Scolopendran centipede
Click to enlarge

When provoked, a few large kinds of centipedes can inflict a painful bite that may cause localized swelling, discoloration, and numbness.

Life Cycle
Adult centipedes overwinter in secluded moist places. Eggs are usually placed in damp soil in the spring and summer. Some centipede species add segments and legs as they grow; others are born with a complete set. Centipedes require 2 to 3 years to mature, and have been known to live 6 years.                                      House Centipede
Centipedes seldom need to be controlled unless they become a nuisance in the home. Centipedes are predators and generally play a beneficial role in the garden. Their activities should be encouraged in the yard. Reductions in the number of household centipedes occur when their food source--other household pests--is controlled. Airing out damp places may help. Outdoors, centipede control is aided by the removal of debris as recommended for millipedes. Although some pesticides are labeled for controlling centipedes, their use is rarely justified.

 Centipede stings

Centipede stings often occur as the victim is putting on clothes or while in bed. They usually release from the skin immediately, although there are reports of tenacious attachments requiring removal with a noxious agent such as alcohol and even surgery. There have been a number of centipede envenomation cases reported worldwide describing a benign, albeit painful, syndrome. The most common scenario includes moderate to severe local symptoms associated with mild systemic symptoms. Local symptoms include pain, erythema, edema, lymphangitis/lymphadenitis, weakness, and paresthesias. Skin necrosis may occur at the site of envenomation during the weeks following the sting, but rarely becomes extensive and heals spontaneously. Systemic symptoms may include anxiety, fever, dizziness, palpitations, and nausea. Excluding local skin necrosis, findings usually resolve within 2 days without sequelae; however, exceptions should be mentioned.

No fatality due to a centipede sting has ever been reported in the United States. The contents of almost 1000 venom glands would be required for a fatal sting in an average adult.




House Centipedes

Centipedes are common arthropods with long, flattened, segmented bodies with one pair of legs per segment. The house centipede is up to 1 1/2 inches long and has 15 pairs of very long, slender legs. Each leg is encircled by dark and white bands. The body is brown to grayish-yellow and has three dark stripes on top.

Though house centipedes are found both indoors and outdoors it is the occasional one on the bathroom or bedroom wall, or the one accidentally trapped in the bathtub, sink, or lavatory that causes the most concern. However, these locations are not where they normally originate. Centipedes prefer to live in damp portions of basements, closets, bathrooms, unexcavated areas under the house and beneath the bark of firewood stored indoors. They do not come up through the drain pipes.

House centipedes feed on small insects, insect larvae, and on spiders. Thus they are beneficial, though most homeowners take a different point-of-view and consider them a nuisance. Technically, the house centipede could bite, but it is considered harmless to people.

House centipede control consists of drying up and cleaning, as much as possible, the areas that serve as habitat and food source for centipedes. Residual insecticides can be applied to usual hiding places such as crawl spaces, dark corners in basements, baseboard cracks and crevices, openings in concrete slabs, and so forth.  Centipedes discovered outdoors should not be controlled.




Millipedes, or "thousand-leggers," are brownish, elongated, cylindrical to slightly flattened creatures, with two (most common) or four pairs of tiny legs per body segment. Millipedes don't really have a thousand legs; even the largest ones have somewhat less than a hundred. When they walk, their legs move in an undulating wavelike manner. Adult millipedes vary from 1/2 to 6 1/2 inches in length. When prodded or at rest, most millipedes curl up.
Click photo to enlarge

Millipedes may be confused with wireworms because of their similar shapes. Wireworms, however, are click beetle larvae, have only three pairs of legs, and stay underneath the soil surface.

Habitat and Importance

Millipedes normally live in and feed on rotting leaves and wood and other kinds of moist decaying plant matter. Generally, their role is a beneficial one in helping to break down dead plant matter. However, when they become numerous, they may damage sprouting seeds, seedlings, or strawberries and other ripening fruits in contact with the ground.

Sometimes individual millipedes wander from their moist living places into homes, but they usually die quickly because of the dry conditions and lack of food. Occasionally, large numbers of millipedes migrate, often uphill, as their food supply dwindles or their living places become either too wet or too dry. They may fall into swimming pools and drown.

When disturbed they do not bite, but some species exude a defensive liquid that can irritate skin or burn the eyes.

Life Cycle

Adult millipedes overwinter in the soil. Eggs are laid in clutches beneath the soil surface. The young grow gradually in size, adding segments and legs as they mature. They mature in 2 to 5 years and continue to live for several years thereafter.


Millipedes seldom need to be controlled. Keep in mind that they do no damage indoors and pose no health hazard. Those that stray indoors can be swept out or picked up with a vacuum cleaner. Sealing cracks and other openings to the outside helps prevent them from entering. Usually invasions are over within a few days.

Eliminating moist hiding places around the home will kill or discourage millipedes. Outdoors, this includes removing rotting wood and decaying grass and leaves from around the house's foundation. This also eliminates millipede food sources. If there is excessive moisture in subfloor crawl spaces or basements, take measures to dry out these areas.

Application of insecticides is rarely justified for millipede control.




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