Centipedes are members of the order Chilopoda and are grouped together with millipedes (order Diplopoda) in the class Myriapoda whose name comes from two Greek words meaning “very many” and “feet”. Centipedes do not actually belong to the insect class since they have more than six feet in the adult stage. And unlike insects, whose bodies are divided into three parts (head, thorax and abdomen), centipedes only have heads and bodies. They shouldn't be confused with millipedes either. Most of their body segments have legs, but millipedes have two pairs of legs per segment while centipedes have only one.
There are 3,500 species of centipedes worldwide. In North America and Europe, they are most often brownish in colour, with flat bodies. They live in the ground or under rocks, bark or logs. Only house centipedes are common in our homes. Their bodies are grey and yellow (2.5 cm) with black parallel stripes down their backs. They have circular black and white bands on their legs that give them a striped appearance. Their antennae are very long as are the last pair of legs which are used to hold their prey.
After a nuptial dance, the male leaves a spermatophore containing semen on the floor (or in a small web woven by other centipedes). The female introduces it into her genital parts as she passes by. Each egg is then deposited on the floor. Some centipedes resemble adults from birth, but young indoor centipedes have fewer legs than adults (about seven pairs instead of 15) and are less segmented. Their legs get longer as they grow and moult. House centipedes are nocturnal, shy away from light, and move very rapidly. They raise their bodies up when moving quickly and lower them when they stop. They are very agile and can capture their prey with their legs (they detect their prey when their legs come in contact with them).
Places where they can be found in the home
Centipedes are more susceptible to lose water through evaporation than insects since, unlike the latter, they do not have a wax covering (cuticle). Therefore, they seek out wet areas such as basements, bathrooms or closets, and also live in cracks. House centipedes live outdoors in the summer or all year long in warmer climates. Other centipedes in our regions live outdoors, sometimes buried in the ground or hidden under rocks and organic debris to protect themselves from predators and drought.
It is best to solve any insect problems you may have if you do not want to attract the predator that feeds on them. Among other things, house centipedes eat flies, silverfish, cockroaches, and wood lice. Even though they sometimes kill spiders as well, centipedes are considered useful.
Steps to combat moisture problems in the home would be appropriate. Leaking pipes should be repaired, and it is always a good idea to plug up holes through which small intruders can enter the house.
The arrival of a predator can help us detect and control insects but if you have been loosing sleep over seeing a house centipede, and are not brave enough to put it outdoors, diatomaceous earth can be used to scratch its cuticle, and that of any other insect that rubs against it, and it will die of dehydration.
The ends of the centipede's jaw feet or forcipula are actually claws connected to a venom gland. They inject the venom into their prey.
Some centipedes produce a sticky substance designed to slow down their predator.
The feet of indoor centipedes are progressively longer from front to back. Their back legs can therefore move outside the forward legs so that they do not hamper one another. The tendency to slip when racing is reduced by the fact that a good part of the ends of their feet can be in contact with the ground, somewhat like a human foot. House centipedes are also faster than other centipedes that have more legs because the segments of their bodies can adjust themselves to remain in a straight line while running, unlike other centipedes that move in snake-like fashion.
One explorer reported that some Indians loved the taste of large centipedes.
House centipedes have 15 pairs of legs. It is therefore incorrect to say that they have 100 legs. Some species have as many as 177 pairs, while millipedes have 250 pairs or less.
A creepy crawler’s dangerousness is not measured by its speed or how different it is from us. People are naturally inclined to find animals with large eyes (such as baby seals) attractive. As a result, many people are disgusted or afraid when they see a house centipede running rapidly around their home, even though the centipede is an ally against undesirable insects. Finding a millipede rolling itself into a ball when you lift the rock under which it was hiding may be less disturbing, but millipedes sometimes attack our plants, even though they often settle for breaking down detritus.
Also, while it is true that house centipedes can inject venom in insects, it has much more difficulty biting our skin. Even the bite of scolopendra (tropical centipedes that are often more brightly coloured and can be up to 26 cm in length) is not lethal to humans (but it can be life-threatening for some allergic individuals). The bite of these exotic species is nevertheless very painful and is similar to being stung by a wasp. They can also pinch with their final pair of legs.