Southern California is home to beautiful sunshine, pristine beaches, and, unfortunately, many different pests, including centipedes. There are over 3,000 known centipede species in the world, but luckily only six of those call Southern California home. While most centipedes are not known for invading homes, it is a good idea to know which centipedes may be sharing space with you as they can deliver a venomous “bite” when threatened.
- Understand what centipedes are and their general characteristics
- How to distinguish centipedes from millipedes
- Learn which centipedes call Southern California home
- What to do when centipedes invade your home
What are centipedes?
Centipedes are not actually classified as insects, though seeing one scurry across your floor or bathtub may have you disagreeing. These multi-legged creatures are actually predatory arthropods belonging to the class Chilopoda of the subphylum Myriapoda. While their name means 100 legs, this is often misleading, with most species having anywhere from under 30 to hundreds of legs. Centipedes are insectivores, meaning they hunt and eat other bugs. They are nocturnal creatures, hiding during the day and hunting at night. While most centipedes are not known to come into your home, they are always on the hunt for food, shelter, and moisture so leaking pipes, cracks in your foundation, and pest infestations can invite these unwanted guests inside.
What do they look like?
Centipedes are long, slender creatures with multiple pairs of legs along the entire length of the body. While every species has slightly different variations, the main centipede characteristics include:
- Size: Centipedes can range from 1/10 of an inch to 6+ inches in length
- Head: The head of a centipede includes a pair of long and highly sensitive antennae along with a very small mouth
- Body: The body is composed of many flat segments, with each segment having one pair of legs
- Claws: Near the head, you will find a pair of large claws that contain a venom gland. Because centipedes have small mouths, they use these claws and venom to paralyze their prey before eating
- Legs: While the name centipede means 100 legs, centipedes can actually have anywhere between 15 and 177 pairs of legs
Centipede vs. millipede
Centipedes and millipedes are often confused with one another, but they are very different. While centipedes are relatively flat, with one pair of legs on the side of each body segment, millipedes are more round or cylindrical in shape with two pairs of legs underneath each body segment. Unlike centipedes that hunt and feed on other insects, millipedes eat decomposing plant material.
Types of centipedes
Southern California is home to several different centipede species. While most of the centipedes in our area do not commonly invade the home, it is not impossible, and, depending on the circumstances, you could find yourself looking at a giant centipede running across your kitchen floor or surprising you when you hop into the shower first thing in the morning.
Here we take a look at the six common centipede species found in Southern California.
The tiger centipede, known scientifically as Scolopendra polymorpha, is also called the common desert centipede, the banded desert centipede, or the Sonoran Desert centipede. This species of centipede inhabits dry grasslands, the forest, and the desert, generally hiding under rocks or logs. These centipedes can range between 4-7 inches and their colors can vary. In most cases, this centipede has a red or orange head with lighter brown and orange body segments, often resembling a tiger stripe. However, in Southern California, these centipedes are often a variety that is entirely light blue in color with darker indigo stripes and turquoise legs.
The Lithobius forficatus, known as the stone or brown centipede is typically found in areas of high moisture, such as under rocks, leaf piles, wood piles, and debris piles. When the outside is lacking humidity, these centipedes may venture inside looking for moisture. They are uniformly brown in color and can range from ¾ -1 ¼ inch in length.
The Scutigera coleoptrata, or house centipede, is the species you are most likely to see inside the home. The house centipede has a body length between 1 – 1 ½ inches with 15 segments and pairs of legs. These legs, however, are often twice the length of the body, making these centipedes seem much larger in size. These centipedes typically feed on silverfish, carpet beetle larvae, cockroaches, and spiders so if you find them in your home, there is a good chance you have additional pest infestations. House centipedes are often found in floor drains, under cardboard boxes, inside cement walls, and in cracks in the foundation.
Chances are you will never see this species of centipede inside your home, and, in most cases, you probably won’t see it outside either. As the name says, the soil centipede lives in the soil and resembles a typical earthworm, but with tiny pairs of legs. These centipedes are often unearthed when digging up the soil or when lifting up logs or stones that they are hiding under. They are typically red to orange in color and have between 27 and 191 pairs of legs.
Western fire centipede
The western fire centipede, Scolopocryptops gracilis, is a long, bright red centipede with burning venom, meaning a bite from this centipede is going to hurt. These centipedes are native to California, but they are mostly found burrowing in tree bark and only coming out during the rain or at nightfall to go hunting.
Giant desert centipede
The giant desert centipede, Scolopendra heros, is North America’s largest centipede, averaging around 6.5 inches but can grow to 8 or more inches in length. These centipedes are bright in color, often with orange bodies and black heads and tails, though their colors can vary. These are the most feared centipedes, with the ability to deliver a medically significant toxic venom to humans. A bite from the giant desert centipede can cause intense pain, inflammation, and swelling. For those more sensitive to insect venom, this bite can also cause vomiting, dizziness, headache, and irregular heart rate.
These centipedes are often found in desert habitats but can also be found in more tropical climates and along the seashore. They are typically found in logs, crevices, burrowed in the soil, or under stones. While they rarely come inside, the presence of food sources, such as insects, small rodents, and small reptiles, can draw them inside.
When centipedes invade your home
The good news is most of these centipedes are unlikely to come into your home. However, if other pests are a problem, you may find the centipedes coming in for food. If centipedes have moved in, chances are you need to call pest professionals. Ridding the home of centipedes can be a difficult task, often involving a combination of chemical treatments and other measures, such as sealing up entry points, eliminating other pests, and addressing areas in the yard that may be attracting centipedes. If you encounter a giant desert centipede in the home, use caution to avoid its bite.
Send the centipedes packing
If your home has become the new meeting ground for centipedes, the team at Insight Pest Management can help. Our expert technicians understand the behavior of these creatures and know where they tend to hide in the home. Call today to schedule a free evaluation and let our technicians help create a centipede-free environment both inside and outside.