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DALY: Millipedes and centipedes: multi-legged creatures troubling homeowners

Over the past few weeks, homeowners have been contacting the Extension office over concerns of multi-legged, worm-like insects that have observed around and sometimes inside their homes. They are observing relatives of insects, centipedes and millipedes.

The frequently prefer areas that have moisture and high humidity, and are commonly seen during rainy periods. They do not carry diseases and rarely cause harm to people, but their presence can be troubling, especially if in large numbers. Certain measures can be taken to keep them out of your home.

Centipedes are sometimes referred to as “100-legged” worms, but do not have that many legs. They have one pair of legs on each segment of their bodies. They have a flat body with a head that has along antennae. They can vary from one inch to several inches. Their jaws with poison glands behind their heads are used to paralyze prey, which are insects. The jaws are too weak to penetrate human skin but have been known to bite individuals who try to handle them, which are about as painful as a bee sting.

When disturbed, they seek shelter in dark, covered places. They live outdoors and rarely enter houses. The exception is the house centipede, which has a hairier appearance than outdoor species. They prefer damp, humid areas such as bathrooms, laundry rooms and basements. The house centipede is active at night. It hunts roaches, ants and other insects.

Millipedes are sometimes called “100 legged worms” or rain worms. Like the centipede, they have a worm-like appearance. Their round bodies contain many segments, each of which contain two pairs of legs. It has a round head with short antennae. When crushed, they emit a foul odor and secrete a fluid that leaves stains. Sometimes the fluids are irritating and can cause allergic reactions. They move at a slow pace.

Unlike centipedes, they eat vegetation and do not bite. Most millipedes are scavengers and prefer to feed on decaying vegetation. They spend a large part of their lives in the soil where they overwinter and then lay their eggs in the spring. Sometimes they migrate in large numbers, especially after heavy rains. They can congregate on carports, driveways, walkways and patios. Sometimes they can find their way into homes.

How do you reduce the population of millipedes and centipedes and keep them out of your home? First, eliminate piles of trash, logs, bricks, stones and leaves that are next to your house that harbors these pests. Make sure your gutters are cleaned out and not overflowing, the ends downspouts are far enough away to keep the water from collecting by the foundation. Check for other sources of moisture as well. Seal up any cracks and crevices on the structure with caulk, and keep doors and windows shut tight.

Pesticides can be sued to control centipedes and millipedes. Insecticides labeled for controlling pests can be sprayed outside along the foundation and also doors and. Repeat applications may be necessary if their populations are large. Inside the home, they can be removed by vacuum cleaner in many cases or by using insecticides labeled for use inside the house. If the problem is severe, then you may need to contact a licensed pest control company. When using pesticides make sure you follow all label directions and safety precautions.

Millipedes and centipedes can be troublesome at times, especially if they find their way into your home. Certain control measures can be implemented to control them and keep them out of your home.

Timothy Daly is the Agricultural and Natural Resources Extension Agent with Gwinnett County Extension. He can be contacted at 678-377-4010 or tdaly@uga.edu.