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Centipedes are elongated, flattened arthropods with numerous legs – one pair per body segment. They are predaceous on many different arthropods including insects. Although all centipedes have poison glands and the means to inject their venom, bites are infrequent and normally do not cause more than temporary, localized pain.

Most centipedes can be found under boards, logs, rocks and other protected, damp locations outside. These centipedes are of little concern to homeowners. Because of their secretive nature, scary appearance and darting motions, homeowners typically fear the house centipede


The house centipede adult has 15 pair of legs with the last pair (on adult females) nearly twice the length of the body, which is one to one and one-half inches in length. This gives the centipede an overall appearance of being from three to four inches in length (including legs and antennae). The legs are banded light and dark, and the body is a dirty yellow with three longitudinal, dark stripes. Newly hatched larvae (rarely seen) have four pair of legs. During the next five larval molts, the centipedes will have 5, 7, 9, 11 and 13 pairs of legs. On the next molt the centipede is considered an adolescent and will have 15 legs during each of the next four molts – when it becomes an adult.

Life History and Behavior

There are six larval instars or molts, and four post-larval instars before the centipedes reach maturity. Females have been known to survive for several years and produce numerous offspring (maximum of 150). During the daytime, the centipedes inhabit dark, damp locations in the home and come out at night to forage for prey.

House centipedes feed on silverfish, firebrats, carpet beetle larvae, cockroaches, spiders and other small arthropods. If house centipedes are seen frequently, this indicates that some prey arthropod is in abundance, and may signify a greater problem then the presence of the centipedes.

Locations within structures that have been known to provide safe harborage for house centipedes include:

  • Beneath concrete slabs – the centipedes enter the house through expansion cracks, around sump pump openings or other breaks in slab integrity;
  • Inside cement block walls – the centipedes can enter through uncapped blocks, missing mortar between blocks and around pipes where they pass through the walls;
  • In floor drains without water traps – especially those drains that are connected to dry sumps;
  • Under and in cardboard boxes that are stored on slabs;
  • In any damp, cool location, such as unexcavated areas (crawl spaces) under the house.


Modify the Habit

Reduction in the centipede food source is the first step in managing a house centipede population. Determine what other types of arthropods, in your house, are providing a meal for the centipedes by distributing ‘sticky insect traps’, also called monitors, around the house.

Harborage reduction is the second most important management tactic. Close, with appropriate fillers, cracks and crevices in concrete slabs and block walls. Seal the covers to sump pumps with screen and caulk. Install window screen in basement floor drains to prevent centipedes from entering from dry sumps.

Reduce the humidity by utilizing dehumidifiers. Grade the soil around the building to facilitate water movement away from the foundation.

Application of Pesticides

Insecticides that are effective for centipedes and labeled for use in the home are formulated as either emulsifiable concentrates or wettable powders that are mixed with water for application as a spray, or as dusts.

Sprays that are available for homeowner use include many of the synthetic pyrethroids such as cyfluthrin, deltamethrin, lambda-cyhalothrin, cypermethrin, permethrin .

Dusts are either boric acid or diatomaceous earth – both which are inorganic insecticides and have very low risk to mammals.

Sprays or dusts should be applied to sites where centipedes are suspected such as cracks and crevices in concrete slabs, block walls, etc.



A centipede bite is an injury resulting from the action of a centipede’s forcipules, pincer-like appendages that pierce the skin and inject venom into the wound. Such a wound is not technically a bite, as the forcipules are modified legs rather than true mouthparts. Clinically, the wound is viewed as a cutaneous condition characterized by paired hemorrhagic marks that form a chevron shape caused by the large paired forcipules of the centipede.

The centipede’s venom causes pain and swelling in the area of the bite, and may cause other reactions throughout the body. The majority of bites are not life-threatening to humans and present the greatest risk to children and those who develop allergic reactions.


The history of a centipede bite is fairly straightforward; the victim typically sees and identifies the characteristic centipede before, or soon after being bitten.

Symptoms which are most likely to develop include:

  • Severe pain, which is usually in proportion to the size of the centipede
  • Swelling and redness
  • Swollen, painful lymph nodes in the regions of the bitten limb
  • Headache
  • Palpitations or a racing pulse
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Anxiety
  • Local itching and burning sensations
  • The wound left by the bite may be accompanied by swelling, redness, and small puncture wounds which may form a circular pattern. This
  • wound may be susceptible to local ulcerations and necrosis.


Individuals who are bitten by centipedes are sometimes given a urine test to check for muscle tissue breakdown and/or an EKG to check for heart and vascular problems.

Reassurance and pain relief is often given in the form of painkillers, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, antihistamines and anti-anxiety medications. In a severe case the affected limb can be elevated and administered diuretic medications.

Wound care principles and sometimes antibiotics are used to keep the wound itself from becoming infected or necrotic.

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