PEST LIBRARY / CENTIPEDES
Centipedes (class Chilopoda) are anthropoids, which are easily distinguishable from other pests thanks to their multitude of legs. In fact, the subphylum they belong to, Myriapoda, is derived from two Greek words meaning “10 thousand” and “foot”. They are fast and predatorial.
Centipedes are commonly found in areas of high moisture, especially outdoors beneath loose bark or piles of leaves, grass, or mulch. They prefer to live outdoors, and lay their eggs in damp soil during the spring and fall seasons. A centipede’s diet is made up of a variety of prey like spiders, flies, silverfish, cockroaches, and woodlice, so they are not the worst creatures to have around your home or business.
Although approximately 70 different species of centipedes can be found in Canada, there is only one commonly found in Ontario basements – the house centipede (scutigera coleoptrata). Hailing originally from Mexico, house centipedes are one of the most common centipedes in North America. They are nocturnal, will avoid light and can bite. They are also very fast, due to both the number and length of their legs.
Centipedes are divided into two parts - a head and a body. Centipedes have long, flattened bodies with one pair of legs per segment. Interestingly, the first pair of legs form fangs which are used to inject venom into their prey. Their last pair of legs plays a role in reproduction.
The house centipede has 15 pairs of legs as an adult, and ranges from 2.5-5 cm in length. Their bodies are grey and yellow, with black stripes down their backs. Their legs appear striped from alternating circular bands coloured black and white.
As young centipedes develop, they molt many times, obtaining additional body segments and legs with each molting. They reach maturity at the age of three, and live for approximately 5 to 6 years.
Despite being quite unattractive, they do not pose any real danger to humans. Both centipedes (and millipedes) are unable to carry or spread diseases to plants, pets, or humans. Although centipedes have poisonous glands and may bite, their venom is not poisonous to humans or pets. Additionally, the type of centipede found in Canadian homes typically does not have the jaw strength required to pierce the skin easily. For the most part, their appearance in your home makes them a nuisance.
Unlike insects, centipedes are not equipped with a wax-like, water-resistant outer layer called a cuticle. Thus, centipedes are more susceptible to water loss through the process of evaporation. This is why centipedes seek out damp or high moisture environments outdoors (under mulch) and indoors (basements and bathrooms). Centipedes are also known to enter homes and buildings during the fall once the temperature begins to cool and take shelter from the winter months.
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