Even though the word centipede means “100 footed,” not all centipedes have a hundred legs. In fact, centipedes rarely have 100 legs. They either have more or less than 100 legs, while some even have as little as 15 legs. But then again, for us bipedal humans, even 15 is a significant number. If you’ve ever looked at a centipede scurrying along on the floor and asked why they have so man legs, then keep on reading to find out.
So why do centipedes have so many legs? Centipedes are metameric animals, which means that their bodies are divided into segments completely identical to each other. They belong to the subphylum ‘Myriapoda,’ the same as millipedes, and their ancestors all had many legs and segments.
Centipedes specifically have a pair of legs attached to each segment except for their second, last, and second last segments. The body segment right after the head has two pairs of legs, which are poisonous and used for hunting prey. The final two sections don’t have any legs; instead, they have openings for reproductory organs.
A significant benefit of having multiple segments is that centipedes and millipedes can wiggle and worm their way into any nook and cranny. They can contort themselves into any shape necessary and can sneak into corners when in danger. Their legs come as part and parcel of their segments, thus the many feet.
Some of the oldest known land animal fossils are those of myriapods. They are considered to be the first known centipedes. Being myriapods, centipedes are a type of arthropod and share many characteristics with insects and crustaceans. The last known common ancestor of insects, crustaceans, and centipedes had a segmented body with a pair of appendages on each segment.
The centipede’s body composition has not evolved much from that of its ancestors. However, these creatures do not have 100 legs, as is the common misconception. They have either less or more than 100 legs. The longest recorded centipede had 177 legs, whereas the shortest has only 15.
The number of legs changes as the centipede grows. This number is also dependent on the species the centipede belongs to.
Types of centipedes
There are many types of centipedes, including the Geophilomorphs, Scolopendromorphs, Lithobiomorpha, and Scutigeromorpha. The two most common ones are:
Lithobiomorpha centipedes are short and compact. They measure around 4-40 mm in size, with a total of 15 pairs of legs and 18 body segments. They have some very distinct features; they have longer sections, and their legs increase in length as they extend down the body with the front pair being the shortest.
The last two pairs of the Lithobiomorpha centipedes are the longest, and they use them for mating or for capturing their prey. Their head is heart-shaped, and they have a distinctive ridge along each side of their body.
The Scutigeromorpha centipede is also short bodied with around 15 pairs of legs. Most of them range from one to six cm in length and are swift runners. Like the lithobiomorpha, their legs also increase in length as you go down the centipede’s body towards the back. In females, the last pair of legs is more than twice as long as the body.
They have a pair of sensory organs located below their eyes called the ‘Tomosvary organs.’ These sensory organs allow the centipede to sense vibration, humidity, and light.
They are also known as Scutigera coleoptrata or common house centipedes. They are usually found in abandoned buildings and can make a home in your house if they’re provided with the right living conditions.
Living conditions for house centipedes
House centipedes are more common than you think. They are probably the only form of centipedes you may have witnessed – unless you go around actively searching for different species of centipede, of course. They are usually yellow to brownish.
Originally, house centipedes were found only in the Mediterranean. However, they are now known and found in homes worldwide if provided with the right breeding conditions. Let’s take a look at the ideal breeding conditions for centipedes.
Dark, moist environments
Centipedes breed in dark, humid, and damp places. Most of them live under rocks, debris, or under logs. Leaking pipes and water accumulated in different areas of the house attracts centipedes inside your home, as they like these kinds of environments.
You’ll mainly find house centipedes in the bathroom; however, some even make their nests in beds if the mattresses are left damp for too long.
Centipedes feed on other insects like cockroaches and spiders. An abundant supply of them in your house can attract centipedes and have them move in from your garden.
Leaking water pipelines can be a major reason for a centipede infestation in your house. If you have wooden siding and a leaking pipe, then that becomes the ideal breeding environment for these critters.
Centipedes are carnivorous and feed on other insects that generally feed on house plants. If you have a problem with pests destroying your plants and do nothing about it, centipedes will then move into your home to add to your pest woes.
How to keep centipedes out of your house
Don’t Overwater Plants
House plants can survive on really low water levels, so watering them more than you need to is not advised. If they are continuously waterlogged, they may die because of it. Overwatering them also becomes a reason for a centipede infestation in your house.
Before you water your plants, touch the soil of the plant to check whether it is dry or not. If the soil is moist to the touch, the plant does not need any more water. You should place that pot under sunlight for the soil to dry before you water it again.
Caulk the walls
Centipedes can crawl their way into your house if they find even the smallest of cracks. As discussed earlier, the many segments of their bodies give them the flexibility to fit through any crack or opening. To prevent them from coming in, you should caulk all the minute holes and cracks you may see in the house.
Replace old window and door frames
Window frames and door frames wear out with time and very visibly, too. If you have cracks in them, centipedes will not only find a way into your home but will also find the ideal place to nest. Make sure you replace them in a timely manner to stop these pests from building their nests in your home.
Fix the siding
Many times, you may see centipedes in the house but won’t be able to identify the reason why they’re there. In such situations, you should inspect your house siding. Wooden siding tends to retain moisture, as do wooden doors and window frames. It is very easy to identify when the siding needs to be changed. By touching it, you can tell whether or not it is damp. If it is, then you have your culprit.
Keep your drain dry
Do not leave the area around the drain drenched in water. Excessive water present in the bathroom around sink drains and shower drains is an open invitation for centipedes to make their home and begin breeding. Make sure you wipe away any excess water and mop both the sink and the drain area to make sure that both these places are completely dry.
Are centipedes harmful? Centipedes are poisonous. Most house centipedes do not harm humans unless they sense danger. However, a centipede bite is excruciatingly painful and poisonous and requires immediate medical attention.
How to get rid of house centipedes? To get rid of centipedes, you can place sticky traps all over the house. If they haven’t yet laid eggs and you can tackle the source, then you don’t need to use anything else. In case the problem continues, and centipede traffic increases, then use an insect killer. You can use an organic insect killer like boric acid, or you can use chemical sprays. However, the problem will persist if you do not cut them off at their source.
Do centipedes have ears? Centipedes do not have ears. They have Tomosvary sensory organs that allow them to feel vibrations and detect light. Through these organs, centipedes can identify movement and sense changes in light to decipher their surroundings.
Can centipedes enter the brain through the ear? There is no evidence of any insect ever having entered the brain via the ear. However, that being said, centipedes can enter the human ear. If they do, then they either have to be smoked out or removed using forceps. Do not try removing them yourself and seek professional help. Stay calm in such situations; if you make the wrong move, you may end up damaging your eardrum.