Managing Centipedes & Millipedes
Helping Nebraskans enhance their lives through research-based education.
Managing Centipedes & Millipedes
by Barb Ogg, PhD, Extension Educator
Centipedes and millipedes are not insects because they have more than six legs, but they are closely related invertebrates. When outdoors, these invertebrates are innocuous organisms, but they may be considered pests when they share living space with us. Both of these groups of invertebrates have long, segmented bodies with either one pair (centipedes) or two pairs (millipedes) of legs on each segment. Their food preferences vary greatly.
Centipedes have pair of poison claws behind the head and use the poison to paralyze their prey, usually small insects. However, the jaws of centipedes are weak and can rarely penetrate human skin. The rare individuals who are bitten may experience localized swelling and pain no worse than a bee sting.
Although harmless, millipedes become a nuisance
when they invade homes in large numbers
The house centipede is found throughout the United States. This centipede can be found outside under stones, boards, or sticks or beneath moist leaf litter and other organic matter. When disturbed, centipedes move swiftly toward darkened hiding places. When they are found in homes, they are often found in moist basements, damp closets and in bathrooms. Centipedes require moist habitats. If they are plentiful, there may be an underlying moisture problem that should be corrected.
Millipedes are similar to centipedes, but have two pairs of legs per body segment. Some people mistakenly refer to them as "wireworms." (Wireworms are the larval stage of a beetle that feeds on roots of plants. See photo below) Millipedes are usually brown to blackish in color. The elongated body is rounded, no flattened, and they have no poison claws or legs. They usually coil up when disturbed, similar to the behavior exhibited by sowbugs or pillbugs (a related invertebrate).
Mistaken Identity: It isn't unusual for people to refer to millipedes as "wireworms". In fact "wireworms" is a term commonly used by local residents when they are referring to millipedes. If you need to choose a control option for one of these pests, it is important to know which pest you really have!
Millipedes are sometimes called "thousand-legged worms" because of their many legs (photo above).
Wireworms (photo below) are the larval stage of a beetle. They have only six legs and those are located near the head. Learn more about wireworms HERE
Millipedes are usually restricted to moist places where they feed on organic matter. In the fall, they may become a nuisance because they migrate away from feeding areas and invade homes. Because they crawl along the ground, they are usually found in lower floors and basements. Once inside the home, they usually die due to desiccation, although in moist basements, they can survive longer.
Millipedes live in organic matter (leaves, mulch, piles of wood or wood chips) and other material close to the house. Overmulching and/or overwatering in the garden can result in millipede attack on vegetable plants. Removing the organic debris or mulch materials near your home will help reduce the potential for invading millipedes.
To discourage millipedes near the house:
Remove mulch and dead vegetation adjacent to the house. Outdoors, you may wish to treat a 10-15 foot strip around the house perimeter with an insecticide. Do not forget to treat the exterior basement wall, window frames and door sills. Carbamate insecticides (Baygon®, Ficam®, Sevin®) are recommended for outside control of millipedes because they are fast-acting. People and pets should stay off wet insecticides, but can safely walk on the yard once the insecticide is dry.
Note: You should not expect insecticides to stop all of the millipedes from entering the home. Insecticides will only help reduce the number of millipedes you find.
The safest and most environmentally sound way to control millipedes and centipedes already in the house is to step on them and vacuum or sweep them up.
Damp hiding places can be treated with indoor insecticides labeled for this use. Be sure to read and follow label directions when using any insecticides.
Use of commercial and trade names does not imply approval or constitute endorsement by UNL Extension.
Return for More Resources on Earthworms
The information on this Web site was updated January 2008 and is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office