Most recently reviewed by: Extension Entomologist at Overton & Janet Hurley (2018)
Common Name(s): centipede
Centipedes can easily be distinguished from millipedes by counting the number of pairs of legs arising from most body segments: millipedes have two pairs, while centipedes bear one pair per segment, with the first pair of legs being modified into fangs. Centipedes are generally flattened and have a pair of well developed antennae on the head. Some centipedes, such as the house centipede (Scutigera coleoptrata Linnaeus), have long legs and are capable of running rapidly. The largest centipedes, Scolopendra spp. (Scolopendromorpha: Scolopendridae) may grow to be about 6 inches long. Millipede bodies are rounded or somewhat flattened. Legs are short and movement is slow, with movement of legs appearing wave-like. Most species are less than 1 ½ inch long, although one species, Narceus americanus (Beauvois) (Order Spirobolida), in west Texas grows up to 4 inches long.
Origin and Distribution
Centipedes are primitive arthropods, relatives of the insects. The name “centipede” literally means 100 legs, and indeed some kinds of centipedes have nearly 100 legs. they are identified by their long, segmented body with each segment bearing one pair of legs. Centipedes are predators. They feed on any small crawling organisms they can catch. Scutigera is one common genus with very long legs that move in a rippling motion. Scolopendra is the giant centipede, a large (up to 8” long) and fast species with a reportedly painful bite. Centipedes in the genus Strigamia, soil centipedes, may also be common. Among all the centipedes, Scolopendra is considered to be the most dangerous because of its venomous fangs and feet.
Simple metamorphosis. Centipedes and millipedes spend the winter as adults in protected habitats and become active in the spring. During the warmer months, females lay eggs in soil and cover them with a sticky substance, although some species give birth to living young. Immature stages (larvae) hatching from eggs several days later are similar to adults but smaller, having fewer leg-bearing body segments. Additional leg-bearing segments are produced with each molt. Millipedes develop through about seven stages (instars) in 21 to 25 weeks. Some centipedes are known to have lived up to 6 years.
ManagementIf you live in the State of Texas, contact your local county agent or entomologist for management information. If you live outside of Texas, contact your local extension for management options.
Centipedes do not generally become abundant like some millipedes. If centipedes are common in a structure it would be an indication of abundant arthropod prey. General pest control and insect exclusion (especially ensuring tightly closing doors) are recommended to eliminate centipedes. Although centipedes look scary to some, in most cases centipedes are accidental building invaders and require no special treatment or control. http://bugguide.net/node/view/20
Literature: Brook et al. 1982; Drees & Wicksten 1990