People often confuse centipedes and millipedes. Both centipedes and millipedes live in damp areas. They have long, slender bodies and many legs.
Centipedes have rather flat bodies with multiple segments. Almost every segment has one pair of legs. The legs seem to extend from the sides of the centipede's body. The last two pair of legs are usually longer than the rest. They are directed backward and are often shaped differently from the other legs.
Centipedes have long antennae on their head. Just behind the head, centipedes have a pair of claws that work as “poison jaws”. These jaws can deliver venom. Centipedes normally use the venom to paralyze their prey. If a person tries to pick up a centipede, the jaws can deliver a painful bite.
Many centipedes are dark brown. The common house centipede, Scutigera coleoptrata, looks different from the other types of centipedes. It is usually grayish-yellow and has three dark stripes running along the length of its body. Its legs are very long.
Outdoors, centipedes live under logs or landscape timbers. They also live in flowerbeds under mulch or leaves. When they move into homes, centipedes often invade basements and crawl spaces. If they move into the living space, centipedes seem to prefer bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry rooms.
Centipedes often hide in closets and cabinets. People are frequently bitten when they put on clothing or shoes that they have not worn in a long time.
Millipedes have dark-colored, tube-shaped bodies. Their legs are very short. The legs seem to be underneath the millipede's body. There are two pair of legs on each body segment. Millipedes can reach 40.5″ in length. It is common to find millipedes curled up in a coil.
Some species of millipedes produce an unpleasant-smelling fluid from glands in their bodies. This fluid can cause small blisters on the skin of people who try to handle millipedes. It can even kill animals that try to eat millipedes.
People can prevent both centipedes and millipedes from invading by eliminating their hiding places around the house. Move firewood away from the house and store it on a rack. Rake mulch and dead leaves away from the foundation. Create a 12″ zone that is free of leaves and mulch.
Make sure exterior doors close tightly. Secure the access door to the crawl space. Check the screens on ground-level windows and crawl space vents. Avoid damp areas by making sure gutters are clear and down spouts drain away from the foundation.
Granular insecticides may be effective in ground cover and flowerbeds. A barrier of liquid insecticide can be applied to the foundation. Because rain and sun break down insecticide quickly, so they will have to be re-applied periodically. Many people are more comfortable having pest control professionals make these applications.