You Should Stop Killing House Centipedes (But How to Get Rid of Them, If You Must)

You Should Stop Killing House Centipedes (But How to Get Rid of Them, If You Must)
Photo: laksena, Shutterstock

I get it: House centipedes travel at alarming speeds, and they look pretty intimidating while doing it, what with all their legs scampering about. But before you run for a shoe the next time you spot one, stop and take a breath. For as creepy as they look, the truth is that they’re not only harmless, they are actually helpful to have around.

What are house centipedes?

The common house centipede — scutigera coleoptrata — often gets a bad rap. These arthropods have a trait called automimicry, which makes it hard to tell their head from their backside, so not only do they move at about 16 inches per second, it’s tough to tell which way they’ll go. They’re sensitive to UV light, including sunlight, so a sudden sunbeam like pulling back a curtain will send them scurrying for cover.

A house centipede can be identified by their body shape and colouring, which distinguishes them from other centipedes and millipedes that probably wandered into your home by accident. In spite of their name, house centipedes actually only have up to 15 pairs of legs. A house centipede is usually between ¾ of an inch to an inch and a half, but can look much bigger because of their long antennae. They are light brown or grey in colour with a triple, brown stripe down their back. Their speed is also a dead giveaway and distinguishes them from millipedes as millipedes tend to move much more slowly.

How are house centipedes helpful?

House centipedes are insectivores, so they eat other arthropods like roaches, bed bugs, ants, silverfish, and termites. That means that, as far as arthropods go, they’re really pretty helpful. They don’t pose any real threat to people or pets, they don’t make nests or webs, and they don’t harm your home in any way. So in addition to being great (free!) pest control, they are also safe to be around.

Having said that, house centipedes have been known in rare circumstances to sting humans, but their stinging forcipules have a hard time penetrating human skin. When presented with a problem, a centipede will most likely simply try to run away. In the rare instance that they do successfully sting a human, their venom tends to be mildly uncomfortable for about a day. There are also rare occurrences of centipede stings causing an allergic reaction, so picking them up or handling them roughly is not recommended (but you didn’t want to anyway, right?).

Really, apart from their darting movements and rather upsetting appearance, house centipedes can be good roommates. Think of them like silly moving mustaches! It’s weird, but it helps.

How to get rid of them anyway

If you still don’t want to cohabitate with centipedes, we understand. The best way to keep them at bay is to get rid of their food source. Install a dehumidifier in the damp areas of your home to control the moisture that might attract some types of insects, and use an exhaust fan to keep bathrooms dry. You should also check to make sure they haven’t been snacking on termites in your woodwork to prevent an even worse problem down the road.

Sealing any cracks or crevices where arthropods might lay their eggs is another way to keep them in check and prevent them from entering your home in the first place.

Log in to comment on this story!