One of the biggest annoyances of winter are all the pests that look for asylum from severe weather in our homes, and those that follow knowing an easy meal is within reach. House centipedes, Scutigera coleoptrata, may hold the distinction of being some of the creepiest of the category. Centipedes are elongated, flattened arthropods with multitudinous legs- one pair per body segment. All centipedes are venomous and the means to inflict bites, but their reclusive nature makes bites rare and, if incurred, only mildly, temporarily painful.
Usually found outdoors, under logs, boards, rocks and other damp, protected locations, house centipedes are usually of little concern to homeowners. Originating from the mediterranean, it is believed these centipedes were introduced to Mexico and spread into the southern U.S. and further, first being recorded in Pennsylvania in 1849. Today house centipedes are found within buildings across the country, and cannot survive outdoors during the winter in the north, but will readily reproduce indoors. Their secretive nature, creepy appearance and naturally darting locomotion cause fear in most who find them in their homes. An entomologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1902, C.L. Marlatt described the house centipede situation, “It may often be seen darting across floors with very great speed, occasionally stopping suddenly and remaining absolutely motionless, presently to resume its rapid movements, often darting directly at inmates of the house, particularly women, evidently with a desire to conceal itself beneath their dresses, and thus creating much consternation.” In spite of the change in fashion trends numbers of centipedes and reactions of inhabitants has not changed much over the years.
Adult house centipedes have 15 pairs of legs, with the final pair measuring nearly twice the length of the body, this is especially noticeable on females. These extra long legs along with long antennae these insects appear to be 3 to 4 inches in long. Legs are banded with yellow and white and the body is a dirty yellow with three longitudinal, dark stripes. Newly hatched larvae are almost never seen, but they have only 4 pairs of legs which will increase over the next five molts to 5, 7, 9, 11 and eventually 13; the final molt moves the centipede into adolescence with the 15 pairs of legs and over 4 months it will be an adult.
House centipedes are carnivorous feeding on silverfish, firebrats, carpet beetle larvae, cockroaches, spiders and other small arthropods. An abundance of house centipedes may indicate an infestation of some of these prey species and a greater problem. Centipedes will be found under cement blocks, inside block walls, in floor drains, in and under cardboard boxes in storage and anywhere else that is damp, dark and cool. Controlling their food source population will help rid the house of centipedes. Additionally, sealing cracks in slabs, blocks and walls, and leaks in pumps, drains and screens will discourage entry into your home. Reducing the humidity level in your home by using dehumidifiers and modifying the grading to direct water away from the structure, if and where possible, will also aid in deterrence of insects from entering your home. However, if these measures don’t work or cannot be implemented, contact an exterminator.