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House Centipede - Photo courtesy of Edward L. Manigault, Clemson University Donated Collection,

Centipede is the common name for the members of the class Chilopeda of the phylum Arthropoda. They are long, segmented animals with jointed appendages and a poisonous bite that in some species is dangerous to humans.

The centipede body is divided into well-marked segments, varying from 12 to more than 100. The head, which is covered by a flat shield above, bears a pair of antennae, usually of considerable length and consisting of from 12 to more than 100 joints; a pair of small, strong, toothed and bristly mandibles; and a pair of underjaws, usually with palps. The next, limb-like appendages are followed by a modified pair of legs with strong joints, terminating in a sharp claw into which a poison gland opens. These appendages are used for seizing and killing prey. The two legs on each other segment are usually seven-jointed, sometimes bearing spurs and glands, and are generally clawed.

The centipede's relatively large brain is connected with a ventral chain of ganglia. Compound eyes occur in one family, and simple eyes or none at all in many. The feelers, certain bristles, and portions of the skin are also sensory. The alimentary canal is straight, and the heart is a chambered dorsal vessel. Tracheae, or air tubes, open on the sides of the body and are connected to one another on each side. Most centipedes measure 2.5 to 5 cm (1 to 2-inches-long) but some tropical species grow to 30 cm or 12-inches-long.

Centipedes are nocturnal and remain under stones or wood during the day. They are all carnivorous. One genus bears live young; the others lay eggs.

House Centipedes and Other Centipede Families

Four principal families of centipedes exist. The first family, to which the common house centipede that occurs here in Ontario belongs, includes forms with compound eyes, long feelers, 8 shields along the back and 15 pairs of very long legs. Seeing one of these big guys scurrying across the bathroom floor in the middle of the night is enough to give even the most seasoned 'bug person' the chills -- at least that's how I react to their unnerving presence. Found in damp basements, closets and bathrooms, the house centipede (Scutigera coleoptrata) has an incomplete metamorphosis, 6 larval instars, 4 post-larval instars and is greyish yellow in color. Their body is wormlike with 3 longitudinal dark stripes on its back. Alternating dark and white bands encircle the legs and those last pair of legs are designed to lasso victims! Unlike most other centipedes, it can live its entire life inside a building.

In homes, the house centipede lives in damp areas such as cellars, closets, bathrooms and unexcavated areas under the house. Its eggs are laid in these same damp places as well as behind baseboards and beneath bark on firewood. Adults are usually discovered when they run rapidly across the floor. They are often trapped in bathtubs, sinks and lavatories.

Although house centipedes can bite, its jaws are rather weak so only slight swelling results. They feed on insects and their larvae, and on spiders which makes them beneficial from an entomological point of view. However, from most people's point of view, centipedes are definitely not welcome to roam around their home. If you find centipedes in your home or cottage with any regularity, call us at 705-426-1902 or 1-877-882-4403 or use the email inquiry form on this page for a quick quote.

The second family of centipedes have simple eyes, 15 pairs of legs, antennae measuring a third or more of the body length, and 15 dorsal shields. The members of the third family have more than 20 pairs of legs; short, multi-jointed antennae; and simple eyes or none at all. The poisonous bite of some of the larger forms is dangerous to humans. The fourth family contains long wormlike centipedes of sluggish habit with 31 to 173 pairs of legs, short feelers and no eyes. Well-developed spinning glands are seen in this family and their secretion cements together ova and spermatozoa.