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Everyday Nature: How I Came To Love House Centipedes

February 8, 2013

Centipede by Flickr user Rob Swatski via a Creative Commons Sharealike license.

I’ve been called a lot of strange things in my life, but I never thought I could be called a nematode-lover.

I certainly never envisioned a day when my wife would start referring to house centipedes – those terrifying huge invertebrates that seem to have a million legs and run at top speed – as our “honored guests.”

We’re definitely not “bug people,” so what turned us around?

As an ecologist, I can appreciate that even unlovable critters serve valuable functions in nature like decomposing organic matter and  keeping the populations of other organisms in check.

Then again, I never thought the indoors had room for biodiversity or strange “guests.” Living in the aptly named “eco-house” in college (where a dirt floor basement and holes in the walls contributed to hefty populations of slugs, moths, flies, and more) forced me to get used to it, but it certainly wasn’t my ideal living situation.

So you can imagine my unhappiness when I discovered several years ago that I’d moved into a condo chock full of house centipedes.

Then the ecologist in me started wondering why they were there, and what would happen if I successfully got rid of them. I knew that getting rid of wolves in Yellowstone led to a number of problems (e.g. higher elk populations started to wipe out cottonwood groves), and that the centipedes wouldn’t be there if they weren’t finding something to eat.

It turns out house centipedes actually eat cockroaches, ants, bed bugs, moths that can eat clothes, and other household pests.

We don’t keep a pristine house, and living in a condo there are always cockroaches and ants somewhere nearby, waiting to strike. When we realized that these beasts were our front line against even more unsavory bugs, our attitudes towards them changed; after all, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

No more vacuuming them up, and no more trying to bring the humidity levels low enough to make them unwelcome.


A Few Million Nematodes

When our household worm compost bin (another adventure in urban ecology) got infested with fruit flies, we naturally wondered about biological controls.

While there were many species of mites, springtails, and other tiny bugs in our bin, we were missing predators.

I ordered a few million nematodes (a kind of tiny roundworm) by mail. Within a few weeks (long enough for the adult flies to die off and their larva to have been eaten) we had a fly-free bin. To this day, I smile when I see the tiny little white thread-like nematodes patrolling my compost bin, looking for new larvae to eat.

My wife has made it clear that bringing in spider eggs from outside to take care of the occasional housefly is going too far.

But we’ve learned that whether we like it or not, we do share our homes with a variety of other creatures.

Rather than dive into a spiral of ever-increasing applications of poison or traps, we’ve been learning to love our allies, no matter how creepy they may be.

(Photos: Centipede by Flickr user robswatski under a Creative Commons Sharealike license; nematodes by Jon Fisher/TNC under a Creative Commons Sharealike license). 


Jon Fisher

Jon Fisher is a senior conservation scientist for the Center for Sustainability Science at The Nature Conservancy. He is leading efforts to put rigorous science front and center in our sustainable agriculture work, and finding ways to improve sustainability through corporate practices and public policy. More from Jon

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  1. Can’t imagine I’ll ever use the word “love,” but I’ve moved from a catch-and-release model to just shooing them out of the way while sighing and shaking my head.

  2. I have prevented vacuuming spiders on the roof edges and it did decrease the number of mosquitoes during rainier summer months.

  3. This is why we just shoo spiders out of the way when we find them around the house (or get out of *their* way), and we encourage birds to nest all around the garden. Never a problem with cockroaches or pest insects.

  4. Great piece! My wife and I recently moved out of a place that had a fairly substantial population of house centipedes. I don’t think I ever reached the same level of acceptance that you did. However, a part of me realized that, in my attempts to eliminate the centipedes, I was shooting myself in the foot as we also had an out-of-control population of cellar spiders and good numbers of cockroaches. I’m sure the centipedes were helping to keep the numbers of these other undesirables at bay.

  5. Saw one the first day I moved into my room. Less than a month later (tonight), I flick on my light switch tonight just in time to catch one scurrying across my sheets! My natural reaction is to take out threats, so that centipede is no longer with us, but I couldn’t help but think “What was it after that I DIDN’T see”. I’m crossing my fingers for nightmares :/

  6. Well I just experienced one climbing over my face and I happen to pull it.When j switched on the light is when a realised its a bloody centepede .Well we have a baby and we sleep on the floor so my immediate reaction was to kill it ..Bam!

  7. thank you for this post. I’ve always wondered where and how these come into my apartment. Knowing these are humanly harmless, I will welcome them as guests.

  8. I had no idea my off the cuff reply would lead to such a lovely story about centipedes. Please note that the folks who have genuine phobias were not meant to be lumped in with the ordinary and unwarranted fear of snakes. I myself suffer from a completely paralyzingly irrational fear of cockroaches. I haven’t had any for years so lucky for me. I have snakes in the house however and they are welcome but I usually put them outside because they are much happier in the fields and woods around my house. I hope they will take care of the field mice before they come in the house. I also have cats and dogs who might Kill the snake. They are also part of the house Eco system. Corn snakes area favorite. By hey are very common under my porch and lovely.

  9. I try really hard not to hate these guys, but for whatever reason they allways..ALWAYS wind up jumping on me from the ceiling mostly on the head 🙁 The most recent time I granted it immunity and WHAM less than 5 minutes later with lights off it lands right on my hand !

  10. Hi – I’d like to get some house centipedes to control other bugs in my raised foundation duplex in Los Angeles. I’ve seen them in other LA homes so that means it’s possible in this area. How do I get some? Is getting them as simple as trapping them where they live? Beyond that, I’d need to know more about their requirements, monitor that they haven’t died off, and not feed them too well so they stop eating my pests. Thanks

    1. Hi Mark, interesting question! I don’t think you can buy them but perhaps you could post something to your local freecycle or craigslist group asking others to trap them for you as a start. I don’t know how to distinguish them by gender so it would probably take a while to get a breeding pair. You could also look at recommendations to control them and do the reverse (like make sure you have good damp, cool, hiding places):

      I’d be curious to hear if you’re successful or not, good luck!

  11. I’ve been keeping my pet house centipedes around for the past couple of years after I did a bit of studying on them. I mostly was wondering if they were a biting danger to humans, but I found out they aren’t and are excellent at pest control. The centipedes really don’t want any interference by people, so our mutual habitation is mutually beneficial!

  12. I too like the house centipedes I have. Though mine do not look like the house ones shown on the web. Cute small things with really long legs and light colored, Mine are scarier. Bigger, black or near so. Look at a few pictures of cave centipedes and you may see the some that look like the ones I have. Fast? Oh yes! Can wipe out say 10 cockroaches and leave just legs behind. Seen this on a shelf inside a kitchen cabinet. Oh yes these critters have full range over all the house. How they look like cave centipedes I do not know. Unless they have lived in this house for over 100 years. My house was built in 1889. Maybe they just evolved this way. Don’t think they ever leave the house. Many of the bugs in here never leave. Spiders I have you will see on TV nature shows showing spiders of the wild fighting. Yesrd , got those same ones. Like Daddy Long Legs but with a bigger elongated body. If you touch just barely or wind move their web, they will gyrate around moving the whole web. Also have some spiders, not sure what kind, that eat sow bugs or pill bugs. They will kill about 100 or more and pile up the bodies wrapped in webs, under my computer for one place. Supposedly nothing much eats sow bugs as they taste so yucky. Only one or two species of spiders with eat them. Guess I have some of those spiders too. Had one sow bug live in my basement for maybe 4 years. It was smart and didn’t get eaten. It grew big and turned a mahogany wood color. Quite nice looking fellow. When it rains a lot in Spring, my basement becomes a Noah’s Ark. Thousands of sow bugs and maybe 100 outside centipedes invade downstairs. Hard to walk down there then without killing something by walking on it. I your careful you can get around.

  13. Do they damage paper at all? I know that moths and silverfish do, and house centipedes eat them.. But do the house centipedes eat paper? Sounds like a ridiculous question, but I have a ridiculous-sized comic book collection.

    1. Hi Jared, not only do they not eat paper, but they eat silverfish who DO eat paper. So my house centipedes have kept my comic book collection safe for many years!

  14. We named all of ours “Leggy”

    Love those dudes, they move so fast.

  15. I never harm the centipedes I find scurrying around my house as they eat the pests I do want dead. I rescue them from the bath tub and washing machine. I do this by placing a piece of paper in their path so they can scamper onto it. I then move the paper to the floor where they continue their hunt. I also try not to harm spiders for the same reason. However I am extra careful with my house’s graceful centipedes. I have read that the House Centipedes of Massahuttes are only a bit over an inch long however some Centipedes in my house appear bigger.

  16. You have now made me a centipide friend, but I just wish they would stay in the basement. They just signal “creepy” to me (all those legs?), but I am more tolerant of the house millipedes (even more legs, but they don’t wiggle), and throw them outside where they belong rather than flushing them down the toilet. I am a trained biologist (ornithologist) so this doesn’t make much sense but sometimes our emotional reactions do not.

  17. Do you know where I could buy maybe a hundred house centipedes? ( live in Reno, Nevada.) Also, how can I make my house friendlier for the house centipedes I have now so that they will grow and prosper?

  18. I crocheted a house centipede ladder from yarn. I drape it into the bathtub, so that if any house centipede falls into the tub it can climb back out.

    1. Hi Margo, I checked with Jon & he says “I actually looked into buying them when I moved and couldn’t find a source. To make the house friendlier? I would say let some areas stay on the humid side (basement is perfect), and provide some cover for them, and that should be it!”

    2. The crocheted centipede ladder totally made my day, thank you so much for sharing! That is amazing!

  19. Feel so guilty about vacuuming up a house centipede this morning. Thank you for the informative article. I will NEVER do that again!!

  20. It is so nice to hear from other like-minded folks who realize that many of the critters in our house are beneficial. Here in Portland, Oregon we don’t get many cockroaches. But I’d be curious to see what other native bugs the centipedes might enjoy. In the autumn, warm days inspire bark beetles to emerge by the hundreds and cling to any sunny surface, inside or out. They’ve got to be tasty to somebody.

    And I love the idea of a yarn ladder in the bathtub. In our household we always do a quick scan of the tub before turning on the shower, to make sure a daddy long-leg or jumping spider doesn’t wind up down the drain. Also, we recently started shaking off our firewood, just before it goes into the wood stove. I’ve reached into the flames several times recently to save a frantic spider before realizing how foolish I am – but it would break my heart to see the little guy or gal get crisped!

    Keep up the awesome reporting!

  21. I hope I dont have dreams about that bloody large house centipede! LOL!

    Yes, let Nature take care of the pests. More healthy than Raid and other sprays.

  22. All very interesting and appreciated, but please tell me the enemy of my biggest problem, silverfish, and I will gladly welcome them into my domain!

  23. Moved into a house in Illinois after a lifetime in Los Angeles. Horrified to find literally hundreds of bugs of every type inside it. Two poison sprays by professional exterminators only resulted in slightly fewer live sightings and a lot of corpses, but not total elimination. This old house has exposed dirt under it for half the building, an unfinished basement for the other. CREEE-PEEEE!

    Two weeks ago, I saw a 4″ long black centipede racing across my hardwood bedroom floor. I almost stepped on him/her at 3 AM with bare feet. That’s enough! I bought a “Bugzooka” thing off Amazon, which just sucks them up so I can release them. I felt proud of my Buddhist nature again, after my previous murderous rampage with the exterminators.

    Yesterday evening, I sucked up a reddish spider and forgot to set him free. Then, I saw him go into a total frenzied panic when this morning, I sucked up a medium-sized centipede, planning to liberate them together. I wondered why a spider would be scared of a centipede, and amid massive guilt at his subsequent demise, found your story.

    I am disheartened by the number of bugs in this house. But I realize they are murdering one another right and left, and the situation would be much, much worse without the top of the food chain present. Since the two chemical applications have done little to abate this situation, perhaps there is a new way of looking at my creepy, slithery, stealthy roommates.

    I’m not sure I’ll ever be comfortable sleeping in a room I know contains carpenter ants, silverfish, centipedes, spiders, “roly-poly” bugs (not sure what their real name is, but they look like fossils come to life!), and who knows what else, but you’ve done a lot to expand my mind. Thanks.

  24. I’m a great lover of European House Centipedes, they really are the most fascinating insects. We moved into an older house about 6 years ago and I wondered why I wasn’t seeing many insects. The centipedes were the most frequent visitors and were quite rare. I looked them up and my respect for them grew. If I see one I usually put it outside – I know it will find its way back if it wants to.

    Just recently i’ve been finding the odd German Cockroach around and came looking to see if my leggy friends would be of use. In theory I will be protected. Just one question; If the roaches continue I intend to try sugar and bicarbonate of soda to kill them off. If a centipede catches a cockroach that has eaten the mixture (it fizzes their insides and kills them) will it kill the centipede too? I’d rather not use anything and just let nature take its course.

    PS I usually find that bees, wasps and flies go out side if I open the window point in the direction of outside and ask them to leave . (though the bees are the most intelligent and obliging).

    1. Hi Anji, That is an interesting question. I can’t find any info on whether or not the sodium bicarbonate would kill a predator that eats an insect killed by the original mixture. I suggest contacting an entomologist at a nearby university to see if they could answer your question. Some universities have extensions that specialize in answering this type of question from the public.

  25. I used to be one of those people who would be immediately freaked-out when a centipede dashed across the room. I’d automatically reached for the nearest object to try to whack it. However, a few years ago my perception of centipedes changed. There was a bedbug infestation in my basement apartment. I tried several methods to get rid of them, but none of them worked. The bedbugs just became more aggressive, leaving lots of bite marks all over my body. One day I read on a website that house centipedes love to feast on bedbugs. At my wits end, I prayed for a house centipede to show up (I hadn’t see one in almost a year).

    The next morning I woke up – and to my surprise, I saw a reddish centipede walking across the floor. He was probably red from munching on bedbugs all night – his red coloring was probably from my blood – but it didn’t matter, because my prayers were answered. Within a few days, the biting ceased and so did the awful anxiety of getting bit. The bedbugs were eliminated and it was a miracle!!! From that day, house centipedes have been welcomed in my home.

  26. Well, I prefer geckos for insect patrol, but will concede that I’ll look at the centipedes differently now.

  27. I have a millipede I ordered for my grandson amongst other creatures but somehow I am taking care of it now it’s beautiful a rainbow ? millipede! I feed it lettuce but was wondering if it can eat arugula?

  28. I have two cats, though only one tries to eat the house centipedes that grace our basement. There was one particular one who popped up last year, pretty small but decent length that I christened Frank. I had to rescue Frank from my cat once, and another time I didn’t notice he was in the shower with me when I turned it on- the floor got very wet that day as I frantically tried to scoop him up and deposit him somewhere drier to recuperate. When winter rolled around I started seeing him less and less- I’d worried that one of the cats had eaten him.

    Now the summer weather is back, and stepping into my shower I found Frank (or possibly Frank II) on the other side of the shower curtain- considerably larger both in length and width. Just like after I first met him, he knew not to sit on the curtain while I was in the shower, and headed down to the floor to go exploring. When I got out I saw him sitting there in a corner, and made sure to lock my cat out of the bathroom when I left.

    My mother hasn’t quite come around to the idea that house centipedes can be friends, but I’ve managed to convince her not to kill them on sight, which is progress.


  30. my hand poked by centipede while watching movie..panicked at first but looking how fast it slithers away..,such timid creature unlike roaches even when shooed still have the ball to eat with you..ridsect away!!

  31. I had seen a few centipedes in my home – usually, put them outside with a paper towel. I do not kill them. They serve a purpose.
    Lots of spiders over last 4 months – live by lake, centipedes were controlling that, I think?

    What almost “haunts me” – is that I had seen a centipede – big one in bathroom (mid am 2 – 3 am) – we had cornered it between the baseboard and bathtub – he was “conforming to the wall” hiding out. Very intelligent bug – just surviving. Wish we didn’t put him away. lesson learned.

  32. I’m new here and was fascinated by most of the topics. I was only researching the creepy centipede that chased me in my house when I decided to explore the site more. I’m 44 and am in school to be a compliance officer (eventually the boss!) for OSHA. My concentration is on construction & sustainability. I mean, can’t future construction sites be built around safety & contribute TO the environment at the same time? I was told that I need a mentor who’s brain I could pick. Not to into linkdin just because that’s just weird, so I need Mr. John Fisher in my life. Ppl usually don’t even know what OSHA is, let alone how to help guide me on my journey. Can someone please direct him to my email address. I’m also painfully private so I will respect his if he’s not interested. Thanks for reading! -Dawn

  33. Wait until you get bitten by one, i got a nasty infection after waking up in the middle of the night with one digging into my arm.

  34. Found one in my dog’s food bowl this morning – it couldn’t get out because the ceramic was so smooth, but of course I shrieked and as I usually do, sprayed it with bleach cleaner and then put it down the drain and garbage disposal. But as I think about it, I feel bad because I probably tortured it with the spray – it looked like it was in agony for a few seconds there – AND to make matters worse (and this is the second time this has happened in the recent past), it knew where I was when I carried the bowl to the sink, it tried to hide on the inside of the bowl so I wouldn’t see it! Another centipede did this earlier this summer when I caught it in my sink – it went up the wall halfway so I couldn’t see it (of course I killed it). This seems to me to be a very smart creature just looking to survive. Yet…..I don’t want them crawling around me and my dogs – as I found one once crawling on my pillow and I can’t have that……

  35. I call them Scooties because they scoot and the scientific name is scutigera coleoptrata. Scooty sounds much friendlier than house centipede 🙂

  36. I have come to actually like centipedes too. I remember once when my husband was trying to kill one with his slipper that was high up on our bedroom wall near the ceiling. He whacked it with the slipper. He got part of it. As it was falling down, we both actually heard it screaming on its way down, with a very thin, high-pitched scream! Really amazing, and weird! Also, when (in my killing days) I would corner one in the bathroom for instance trying to whack it, it didn’t know which way to run. It looked so scared trying to get away from me. It made me feel sorry for it. Now that I know centipedes kill other bugs, they are my friends for sure.

  37. Yes, I love house centipedes. And spiders and snakes and … . Maybe because I was raised in the deep woods of northwest New Jersey after WWII and came to feel at one with everything around me. I recognize you as a fellow non-earthling. If someone were to call either of us normal or average, we would silently feel insulted, wouldn’t we. After I reluctantly left the woods I got BS and MS degrees in physics, and then after about 10 years of various accomplishments and hardships, I became a doctor of chiropractic and went into solo practice for 20 years. During that time I engaged in various, spontaneous things. I won a 10-mile running race, I had a 5-morning-a-week live talk show on the local radio station, and I gave an off-the-cuff talk to a large room full of state prison inmates. After that I taught physics and math at WNCC and UNR in western Nevada. For the past 13 years I’ve conducted my own agricultural research on perennial, prolific, food-producing plants hardy to the high desert of northern Nevada. I’m now in the process of moving to a horse ranch in Minden, Nevada, where I will be landscaper and groundskeeper for what, at the moment, is 10 acres of sagebrush, tumbleweeds, and wild grass. Oh, dear. Why am I telling you all this? Maybe because I’m an ADD non-earthling scientist, and I get excited when I meet a kindred spirit. I’ve never lived in a western desert ranch environment before. When I get there I’ll assess the need for house centipedes. I kind of hope I’ll need some.

  38. Ok , so , I guess,
    the enemy of my enemy , is my…..acquaintance , as I have always counted on spiders to keep ants , etc , in check .
    That being said , I know , all , centipedes \milipedes , are poisones , how bad , is their bite\sting ?

  39. House centipedes are awesome. The misinformation on this insect is egregious. Large numbers of house centipedes are eating and indicate that there are pests that most don’t want in their house ..
    Excellent predator as well as indicator that there is a pest problem but the house centipede isn’t one of them !

  40. Please accept my apologies for mislabeling the centipede with the label insect. But most don’t distinguish and many of our macro arthropod as well as our micro arthropod remains poorly understood or completely dismissed .
    Both are very important, a vitally important facet even in the ability to heal our soils as well as keep them viable .
    As in all of nature and we see even in deep space there are components that make the whole and while environment will dictate the components the operation remains the same. Environment , Scale , Time plus One ..
    Complexity is awesome..

  41. To Guy – they rarely bite (typically only if picked up / attached), when they do it often doesn’t even break the skin, and when it does I hear that it’s typically very mild but that for people who are allergic it can be as bad as a bee sting. But even sleeping on a mattress on the floor for years in a condo full of them I never had a problem! To Laura, yes I used Steinernema feltiae parasitic nematodes. It was pretty amazing to watch them go to work!

  42. Really enjoyed this little article! I appreciate all the info about centipedes. As one sits high up on a 45° wall just a meter away from me I figured I should look up whether they eat other insects as spiders do before deciding to get rid of it, and you’ve definitely made up my mind!

  43. I found a house centipede in my house this morning and after my initial startle, I caught it and gave it a fly. It quickly devoured the fly and now that I’ve read a little about them I’m not so leary of it. It is an interesting little creature. I’m more of a spider friend and have taken college courses on them, but this little rascal has me fascinated. Thanks for letting me share.

  44. When I was a kid, I used to be scared as all shit of these when they crawled out of the drain or when zooming across the floor at high speed. So many legs, meant danger to my mind. About seven or eight years ago now I started seeing one particular specimen in my basement, and decided to look them up. Reading articles like this about how they’re helpful, I named him Frank and decided to leave him be.

    I did have to rescue him from the shower a few times, and let him know that I was fine with him being in my room but my face was off limits for midnight exploring. I like to think we became friends, though a few years later he was getting too old- too big to climb anywhere without falling off, too slow to catch the meagre offerings of bugs invading our house. I moved him outside during the height of summer and mourned his departure like I would a favoured pet.

    He was succeeded by his many children, some of whom have since grown big and clumsy and gone outside, but many others lurk beneath the trim, behind appliances, and under furniture- doing good work keeping the house clean. My mom affectionately refers to all of them as ‘Franks’, though she still calls me occasionally to shoo away some that have invaded her space. Usually I just pet them lightly and that sends them off, but occasionally stronger methods are needed- a paper towel is usually good to push them away from a space without injury.