Centipedes and Millipedes

Centipedes and Millipedes
Black and Brown Millipede on a Green and Brown Branch

EAST TEXAS - I’ve had several folks call me recently about an abundance of centipedes in their landscapes as well as their homes.

As all critters grow and mature, there are certainly cases where the conditions line up and are favorable to developing a huge population. And when that happens, everyone affected immediately notices.

Consider the insects. Over the years we’ll have an “outbreak” of one type of insect or another. The fact is that insects of all kinds lay an abundance of eggs. Some lay hundreds or thousands of eggs. The vast majority never hatch, complete the larval stage or make it to an adult insect.

The disparaged Lovebugs, for example, are known to be a huge problem in some years and hardly noticeable in others. Again, there are environmental factors at play. When everything works out just right, their numbers explode and it’s a mess.

Getting back to our centipedes and some millipedes, some locations in East Texas have had just the right conditions for their numbers to explode.

So, let’s try to understand them more. Millipedes and centipedes do not carry diseases that affect people, animals or plants. They are typically found in moist habitats or areas with high humidity and are most active at night.

Centipedes and millipedes are certainly not the same creature and, honestly, neither are classified as an insect. They are arthropods like an insect, but they are land-dwelling distant relatives to crawfish and shrimp.

Centipedes are often called 100-legged worms and have one pair of legs on each of their body segments. Centipedes, which have poison glands and can bite. As such they can pose an occasional threat to us.

All centipede species are more or less wormlike and have a flattened body with a distinct head that bears a pair of long antennae. Depending on the species, centipedes can vary in length from 1 inch to almost 1 foot.

Most centipede species feed on small creatures such as insects. They catch their prey with their powerful jaws and then kill it by injecting it with venom. Occasionally, we may be bitten by centipedes, but the poison usually only produces a moderate reaction similar to a bee sting.

Centipedes are found in a variety of habitats, but prefer dark, moist, protected areas such as under stones, rotted logs, leaves and bark. They overwinter as adults and lay eggs in the soil during the spring and summer.

Millipedes do occasionally damage seedling plants by feeding on stems and leaves and may enter homes in large numbers during periods of migration and become a considerable nuisance. They do not cause damage inside the home, although they may leave a stain if they are crushed.

Millipedes are often called 1,000-legged worms or rain worms. They are also wormlike, with rounded body segments that each bear two pairs of legs. Species can vary in length from less than 1 inch to 2 or more inches. They are typically light brown to black. Millipedes can climb walls easily and will often enter homes through foundation cracks above ground level.

Millipedes are not poisonous, but many species have glands capable of producing irritating fluids that may cause allergic reactions in some individuals.

Most millipedes are scavengers and feed primarily on decaying vegetation and leaf litter, although some species attack roots of living plants. Millipedes spend most of their lives in the soil where they also overwinter. In the spring, millipedes lay between 20 and 300 eggs in the soil.

But how do you get rid of a heavy infestation? In your house a good cleaning will eliminate a number of insects. Be sure to eliminate any cracks around windows and doors where they can enter.

Interestingly, you will be able to eliminate these “non-insect” creatures with a variety of insecticides. Read the label and follow directions carefully.

Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is cw-sims@tamu.edu