I liken the house centipede, Scutigera coleoptrata, to a swift-moving hairball. Due to their secretive behavior, dart and freeze movements, and what seems like an overabundance of legs, encounters with house centipedes can cause anxiety.
House centipedes originate from the Mediterranean and have spread to and through much of Europe, Asia, and North America. Outdoors, they can be found under rocks, logs, landscape timbers, firewood, and other similar protected, dark, moist environments. Indoors, they are frequently found in areas with high relative humidity such as bathrooms, laundry rooms, basements, closets, and crawl spaces.
House centipedes are distinctive and relatively easy to identify. House centipedes are elongate, flattened arthropods with a body length (not including the legs or antennae) of one to one and a half inches long. The body is brown and yellow/tan; three dark stripes with lighter coloration in between run the length of the body. The 15 pairs of long, delicate-looking legs are banded, becoming lighter toward the tips and equipped with barbs to help hold prey. In females, the last pair of legs is more than twice the length of the body. The eyes are large, well-developed, and multi-faceted.
House centipedes are agile predators of arthropods that are often considered pestiferous such as carpet beetle larvae, cockroaches, firebrats, flies, moths, bedbugs, crickets, silverfish, earwigs, spiders, and other small arthropods. Although house centipedes are beneficial, most homeowners consider them a nuisance. If house centipedes are found in abundance, their presence may indicate a pest population of the previously mentioned arthropods.
Centipedes can bite, possess poison glands, and use venom to subdue prey. House centipedes have mouthparts that are small and do not penetrate the skin very well. While aggressive predators of prey of similar size, bites from house centipedes are infrequent and are not typically considered medically significant to humans or pets unless one has a sensitivity to the venom.
For management of house centipede, reduce the house centipede’s food source, reduce harborage for both prey and predator, reduce the relative humidity in the structure, correct any moisture problems that may be present, and use exclusion methods to close entry points into the structure. Cultural and mechanical control methods usually reduce house centipede numbers to levels where pesticides are not necessary. Contact your local Clemson Extension Agent for pesticide recommendations if cultural and mechanical control methods are ineffective in reducing house centipede numbers.
For more information, see HGIC 2410, Centipedes, from the Home and Garden Information Center (HGIC).