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Don't fear centipedes

As gardeners return to their gardens this spring and start preparing it for summer’s plants, they unearth all kinds of insects and other arthropods. One arthropod people have been encountering has been soil centipedes. Because they don’t recognize them, people have questioned if they are pests. Unfamiliar
Typical soil centipede.  Photo:  Whitney Cranshaw,
Colorado State University,
yes, but pests definitely not.

You can recognize all centipedes from their flattened bodies, their long conspicuous antennae, and their 15 or more pairs of legs (interestingly it is always an odd number). There is just one pair of legs per body segment (compared to millipedes, which have two pairs of legs per body segment) and they are typically
quick moving.

In general, centipedes are found in moist areas, such as leaf litter and mulch and under objects such as stones and logs where they are predators mostly on small insects and other arthropods.

Soil centipedes are common but because they live in the soil, they are normally not noticed. They are often brownish and are slender and commonly several inches long. They are slow moving and eyeless and burrow into the soil like earthworms.

You may also encounter stone centipedes in your garden or yard. They are similar in appearance, typically reddish brown and move more quickly. They are found on the ground, often under objects like mulch and stones.

The most common centipede is the house centipede. While you can find it outdoors, people usually discover them inside their homes, especially around showers, bathtubs, and sinks. They are less slender and have particularly long legs. They have a yellowish brown body, often with three dark stripes. Like most centipedes, they move quickly.
House centipedes are common indoors. 
Fortunately they do not harm people. 
Photo:  Jeff Hahn, U of MN Extension

Regardless of where you find them, centipedes are not harmful. While large centipedes have the potential to bite people, this will only happen if you carelessly handle one. Otherwise, they are innocuous and actually beneficial because of the insects they eat. Just ignore any centipedes that cross your path.

To learn more about centipedes, browse information and pictures on BugGuide
For more information about house centipedes in homes, see Sowbugs, Millipedes and Centipedes

Author:  Jeffrey Hahn, Extension Entomologist
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