Despite making us squirm, centipedes are the good guys, helping rid homes of far nastier pests.
As one of the most misunderstood heroes of pest control, the house centipede (Scutigera coleoptrata) is usually received with screams rather than gratitude. But its creepy-crawly looks are deceiving. This arthropod is a beneficial predator whose usefulness resides in preying on cockroaches, silverfish, and termites—far creepier critters, if you ask us.
With origins in the Mediterranean, house centipedes are naturally nocturnal soil-dwelling hunters that we now most frequently encounter in humid basements and bathrooms. And, while some will spend their whole lives indoors, others can be found outdoors during the growing season. There, they prey on pests such as grubs and cutworms, among other ground-dwelling insects and spiders, until cooler temperatures drive them inside in fall.
Although the name means “100 feet,” mature house centipedes have only 30 legs. The front two serve as fangs for injecting their victims with venom, but don’t worry, those fangs are too weak to puncture human skin. The other limbs allow them to cruise at top speed and snare insects using a tactic called lassoing, whereby the centipede tangles its prey in a mass of long legs. Equally impressive, when centipedes themselves face threats, they can self-amputate their legs to distract predators.
Driven by a high metabolic rate, just one centipede has the ability to decimate an astounding number of bad bugs. However, if you still can’t stand the sight of them, know that their presence in the home is often indicative of cracks in foundation masonry and gaps around windows—a problem easily fixed with some caulk.
KEY CHARACTERISTICS OF HOUSE CENTIPEDES
- 1 to 2 inches in length with 15 pairs of 1/2-inch-long legs at maturity
- Mature at 3 years; average lifespan of 3 to 7 years
- Yellowish gray with three dark stripes that run along the body (don’t confuse them with silverfish, which can destroy books, wallpaper, and clothes)
- Lives outdoors in mulch, wood piles, brush, and other cool, moist places
- Commonly found indoors in bathrooms and basements