The centipede are primitive arthropods, relatives of the insects. Known for their elongated bodies and numerous legs, centipedes are a common sight in various parts of the world. They belong to the group of arthropods and are known for their predatory nature.
Centipedes are typically found in moist environments like soil and leaf litter but can also be found in deserts and even arctic regions. They are nocturnal creatures, meaning they are most active during the night. Their bodies are segmented, with each segment having a pair of legs.
They are predators and feed on any small crawling organisms they can catch. This makes them play an important role in the ecosystem, despite their somewhat intimidating appearance, since they help control the population of other pests and insects by preying on them.
In this article, I’ll share everything you need to know about centipedes. You’ll learn about their lifecycle, habits, favored habitats, and what could possibly be attracting them to your home and what you can do to prevent or get rid of them.
What Are Centipedes?
Centipedes belong to the group of arthropods, specifically within the class Chilopoda. They are predominantly carnivorous and are known for their unique physical characteristics.
The name ‘centipede’ itself, derived from Latin, means ‘a hundred legs,’ but interestingly, they can have anywhere from about thirty to over three hundred legs, depending on the species.
Centipedes are usually found in a variety of environments worldwide, including tropical rainforests, deserts, and even within your household. They are characterized by their elongated, segmented bodies, with each segment having a pair of legs.
Their first pair of limbs are modified into venomous fangs, which they use to paralyze their prey.
Despite their somewhat intimidating appearance, centipedes play a crucial role in the ecosystem. They help control the population of other pests, acting as natural pest control. However, while they are generally harmless to humans, some larger species can deliver a painful bite if threatened.
Lifecycle Of A Centipede
The lifecycle of a centipede begins from an egg and culminates into a mature, fully-grown arthropod.
Female centipedes lay their eggs, usually in soil or decaying organic matter, where they are protected from predators. The number of eggs laid can range from about a dozen to over a hundred, depending on the species.
Once the eggs hatch, the infant centipedes, also known as nymphs, emerge. These nymphs are miniature versions of the adults but with fewer leg segments.
As they grow, they undergo a process called anamorphosis, where they add additional body segments and legs with each molt. This is a unique characteristic of centipedes, as most other arthropods have a set number of segments from birth.
The lifespan of centipedes varies greatly among species, with some living as little as a year to others surviving up to six years.
What Do Centipedes Look Like?
Centipedes have fascinated and terrified people for centuries. But what do these remarkable arthropods actually look like?
Typically, centipedes possess a long, slender, and somewhat flattened body, which allows them to navigate through tight spaces. Their body is segmented, each segment housing a pair of legs, hence their name which translates to “hundred legs”.
However, the number of legs can vary from species to species, ranging from a mere fifteen to a staggering four hundred. Their coloration is usually brown or reddish-brown, but some species can be found in more vibrant hues.
Centipedes are equipped with a pair of venomous claws just behind their head, used primarily to paralyze their prey. Their head is adorned with a set of antennae that they use for navigation and hunting.
The length depends on the particular species, with the largest centipedes Scolopendra spp. (Scolopendromorpha: Scolopendridae) growing up to 6 inches long.
Centipede vs. Millipede
Although centipedes and millipedes may seem similar at first glance, these two species have significant differences.
Centipedes, known for their speed and predatory nature, are carnivores that hunt insects and spiders. They boast one pair of legs per body segment and have a more flattened body, which allows them to navigate through their environment quickly.
On the other hand, millipedes are slower and more docile. They are primarily detritivores, feeding on decaying leaves and plant matter. Millipedes have a more rounded body with two pairs of legs per body segment, which contributes to their slower pace.
Plus, while centipedes are equipped with venomous claws for hunting, millipedes rely on their hard exoskeleton and ability to coil up for protection.
The easiest way to tell the two apart is to count the number of pairs of legs arising from most body segments. Centipedes have one pair per segment while millipedes will have two pairs. Centipedes’ first pair of legs are also modified into fangs.
Both creatures serve essential roles in the ecosystem, with centipedes controlling insect populations and millipedes aiding in decomposition. Despite their initial similarities, the centipede and millipede are uniquely adapted to their specific niches in nature.
Centipedes have unique habits that set them apart in the insect world. These arthropods are predominantly nocturnal, preferring to hunt under the stealthy cover of darkness.
They are carnivorous, feeding primarily on other small invertebrates. Their diet includes insects, spiders, and even other centipedes.
One of the most intriguing centipede habits is their method of capturing prey. They use their venomous front legs, or forcipules, to paralyze their victims before consuming them. This venom is not typically harmful to humans, but it can cause mild irritation.
Centipedes are also known for their rapid movement and exceptional agility. They can navigate through tight spaces and across rough terrain with ease, making them efficient predators.
Centipedes are known for their numerous legs and swift movements. They are predominantly nocturnal, and their habitats can vary significantly, depending on the species. Centipedes can be found in a wide range of environments worldwide, from tropical rainforests to arid deserts.
The most common place to find centipedes is in damp, sheltered areas. They are often found under stones, logs, leaves, and in crevices, where they can stay moist and hidden from predators.
Centipedes require a moist environment because they lose water rapidly through their exoskeleton and are prone to desiccation.
Some species of centipedes have adapted to live in more extreme environments. For example, the stone centipede can be found in high mountain regions, while the desert centipede survives in arid conditions.
Despite their diverse habitats, centipedes are seldom seen due to their secretive nature and nocturnal habits.
Types Of Centipedes
While there are over a thousand known species, they can generally be categorized into three main types: House Centipedes, Stone Centipedes, and Soil Centipedes.
- House Centipedes: House Centipedes are the most common type and are found in many homes worldwide. They are easily recognized by their long, thin bodies and their rapid movement. Despite their somewhat frightening appearance, they are harmless and actually beneficial as they help control other pests.
- Stone Centipedes: Stone Centipedes, on the other hand, have a more robust body and prefer to live in damp, dark places like under rocks or logs. They are known for their ability to quickly burrow into the ground when threatened.
- Soil Centipedes: Soil Centipedes are the most unique and least known among the three. They have the most legs of any centipede, sometimes up to a staggering two hundred! They spend most of their lives underground, making them difficult to observe.
What Attracts Centipedes To Your Home?
Centipedes are typically drawn to homes for two primary reasons: food and shelter.
These multi-legged creatures are insectivores, meaning they prey on other small insects. Therefore, if your home is harboring a variety of other pests such as spiders, flies, or ants, it could be an enticing buffet for centipedes.
Plus, centipedes thrive in damp, humid environments. They are often found in bathrooms, basements, closets, or any other areas of your home that may have excess moisture.
Leaky pipes, condensation, or even a lack of proper ventilation can create the perfect habitat for these unwelcome guests.
Another factor that might attract centipedes to your home is clutter. Centipedes love to hide in dark, secluded areas. A cluttered home provides plenty of hiding spots for these creatures, making it an ideal place for them to take up residence.
How To Prevent Centipedes
Centipedes are not typically dangerous, but they can be a nuisance in your home. Prevention is the best approach to keep these creepy crawlies at bay.
Start by sealing any cracks or crevices in your house’s foundation, doors, and windows. Centipedes thrive in damp environments, so ensure your home is well-ventilated, particularly in areas like the basement and bathroom.
Regular cleaning can also deter centipedes. They feed on other household pests, so keeping your home free of insects can make it less attractive to them. Consider using a dehumidifier in high-humidity areas to make the environment less hospitable.
Outdoors, keep leaf piles, firewood, and compost heaps away from your home’s foundation. These can serve as perfect hiding spots for centipedes.
If the infestation persists, you may need to resort to insecticides or seek professional pest control help.
Keep in mind that the key to preventing centipedes is to make your home less inviting to them. Be diligent in your efforts, and you can keep your home centipede-free.
How To Get Rid Of Centipedes
Centipedes, despite their creepy appearance, are rather harmless to humans. However, their presence can be quite unsettling. Here are a few tips if you’re looking to rid your home of these many-legged creatures:
- Eliminate Hiding Spots: Centipedes thrive in damp, cluttered areas. Clean your basement, garage, and any other cluttered spaces regularly. Pay special attention to damp areas, as centipedes are attracted to moisture. Regular vacuuming can also help to remove eggs and small centipedes.
- Seal Off Entry Points: Centipedes usually enter homes through cracks and gaps in the foundation, doors, and windows. Use caulk or weather stripping to seal these areas.
- Consider Natural Repellents: Essential oils like peppermint or tea tree can deter centipedes. Simply mix a few drops with water in a spray bottle, and spray in areas where you’ve spotted centipedes.
If the infestation is large, it might be best to call a professional pest control service. They have the tools and knowledge to effectively eliminate centipedes from your home. Remember, the key to centipede control is prevention and consistent effort.
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Melissa Pino is a biologist, master gardener, and regular contributor for Planet Natural. Melissa’s work focuses on promoting environmentally-friendly practices, helping people create healthy gardens and finding ways to achieve overall health and wellness.