Centipedes And Millipedes: Tips On Millipede And Centipede Treatment Outdoors
By: Susan Patterson, Master Gardener
Millipedes and centipedes are two of the most popular insects to be confused with one another. Many people freak out upon seeing either millipedes or centipedes in gardens, not realizing that both can actually be helpful.
Centipedes and Millipedes
Millipedes are normally dark in color with two pairs of legs per each segment of the body while centipedes are flatter than millipedes and have a set of well-developed antennae on their head. Centipedes can also be a number of colors and have a single pair of legs per each body segment.
Millipedes generally move much slower than centipedes and break down dead plant material in the garden. Centipedes are predators and will eat insects that do not belong in your garden. Both like damp areas and can prove to be beneficial in the garden, as long as their numbers are controlled.
How to Control Garden Millipedes
It is possible for millipedes to damage your garden area if they become too populous. Although they generally feed on decomposing organic material, millipedes can turn to plant matter including leaves, stems and roots. And although they do not bite, they can secrete a fluid that can irritate the skin and can cause an allergic reaction in some people.
If you have an overabundance of millipedes in the garden, remove anything where moisture can collect. If you keep the area as dry as possible, their numbers should decrease. There are also several types of garden baits that contain carbaryl, which is often used to control millipedes that have gotten out of control in the garden. Only resort to pesticides when absolutely necessary, however.
Control for Centipedes in Gardens
Centipedes are more active than millipedes and feed on small insects and spiders, using a poison to paralyze their victims. However, their jaws are too weak to cause much damage to humans other than a little swelling, such as with a bee sting.
Like the millipedes, centipedes like moist environments, so removing leaf litter or other items where moisture collects will help eliminate their numbers. Centipede treatment outdoors shouldn’t necessarily be a concern; however, if it is needed, removing debris that they may hide under will help keep them from hanging around.
While millipedes can damage your plants, centipedes generally will not. In fact, centipedes in gardens can be rather beneficial since they tend to eat insects that could possibly damage your plants.
Don’t fret if you see a few centipedes and millipedes in your garden area — better here than in your home. Only take measures to control them if you think their population is out of control. Otherwise, take advantage of the fact that centipedes are just another way to keep the population of destructive pests under control.
This article was last updated on
Read more about Beneficial Garden Friends
How to Get Rid of Centipedes
Have you ever flipped on the bathroom light to discover the scurrying of many long legs on a creepy insect as it makes its escape? So have we, and it’s quite startling. We’ll show you how to get rid of centipedes in and around your home to prevent these unwanted surprises.
House centipedes are slender insects with 100 pairs of legs, hence the name, centipede, which means 100-footed. It is because of this pair of legs times 50 that they bring out the fear in us while they dash up walls, behind furniture, and other hiding places. The good news is, these creepy-crawlies are not dangerous to humans.
The most common species of centipede in the United States is the house centipede. They carry venom in two of their front legs and sting prey, such as silverfish and termites. Their sting is similar to a bee sting on the human skin, and while it is uncomfortable, it’s not fatal.
- Getting Rid of Centipedes
- Eliminating a Food Source to Prevent Centipedes
- Getting Rid of House Centipedes with Sticky Traps
- Making a Homemade Centipede Sticky Trap
- Get Rid of Millipedes Indoors with Essential Oils
- How to Get Rid of Centipedes with Boric Acid
- Make a Homemade Insecticide Spray to Kill Centipedes
- Using an Indoor/Outdoor Soap Spray to Kill Centipedes
- Make a Natural Vegetable Oil Spray to Eliminate Garden Centipedes
- Applying Diatomaceous Earth to Get Rid of Centipedes
- Preventing Centipedes in Your Home
Millipedes are often called 1,000-legged worms or rain worms. They are wormlike, with rounded body segments that each bear two pairs of legs. The head is rounded with short antennae. Species can vary in length from less than 1 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. The defensive sprays of some millipedes contain hydrochloric acid that can chemically burn the skin and cause long-term skin discoloration. The fluid can also be dangerous to the eyes. It is not advisable to handle millipedes with your bare hands. Persons handling millipedes may also notice a lingering odor on their hands. After contact with millipedes, wash hands thoroughly with soap and water until the odor is gone. The solvents ether or alcohol will also help remove the noxious fluid.
Centipedes are often called 100-legged worms and have one pair of legs on each of their body segments. All centipede species are more or less wormlike and have a flattened body with a distinct head that bears a pair of long antennae. Jaws containing poison glands are located on the first body segment immediately behind the head. Depending on the species, centipedes can vary in length from 1 to 12 or more inches when mature. The most common centipede species found in Georgia are less than 5 inches long. Centipedes vary in color from light yellow to dark brown and reddish brown.
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, humans may be bitten by centipedes, but the poison usually only produces a moderate reaction similar to a bee sting. People who are allergic to insect venoms and other toxins may suffer severe reactions to centipede venom. Most centipede bites are uncomplicated and self-limiting. Treatment recommendations include washing the bite site with soap and water, applying ice or cool wet dressings and taking analgesics for pain.
Millipedes are common garden scavengers, feeding on decaying leaves and plant litter. Also known as “thousand-leggers," they spend most of their lives hidden in soil and damp places. When their numbers build, millipedes may feed on living plants, too. Newly sprouted seedlings and ground-hugging fruits, such as strawberries, are targets. In fall, large numbers of millipedes often gather near building foundations. They sometimes enter homes through cracks and crevices, but they generally die within a few days inside.
Identification: Tough-shelled, worm-like millipede bodies consist of multiple rounded segments, with two pairs of short legs each. Common millipedes grow 1/2 to 2 inches long, adding segments and legs as they mature, but some species exceed 6 1/2 inches. Millipedes are typically brown, move slowly, and curl up when disturbed. In contrast, centipedes have one pair of long legs per segment and sprint away when bothered.
Signs/Damage: Millipede activity occurs at night in areas with their favored food source: decaying organic matter. During daytime hours, check for millipedes in damp areas around your home's perimeter, including garden mulch, fallen leaves and other garden debris.
Control: Effective millipede control includes removing garden debris, sealing cracks and crevices in your foundation, and creating a protective perimeter around your home. GardenTech ® brand offers highly effective options to kill millipedes by contact and keep protecting for up to three months:
- Sevin ® Insect Killer Ready to Spray, attaches to a regular garden hose and measures and mixes as you spray. This non-staining formula treats lawns, soil, foundation plantings and your home's foundation up to a maximum height of 3 feet.
- Sevin ® Insect Killer Concentrate, used with a pump-style sprayer, comes with a measuring cap to simplify mixing just the right amount. This non-staining formula treats your home's foundation, up to a maximum height of 3 feet, as well as lawn and garden areas.
- Sevin ® Insect Killer Granules reach millipedes above and below the soil line. Apply the granules with a regular lawn spreader to create a band of protection around your home's perimeter or treat your entire lawn. Water immediately after application to release the active ingredients.
Tip: Repair foundation cracks or crevices to prevent millipedes from coming indoors. Keep foundation areas free of plant debris and fallen leaves, and correct drainage problems that created the damp, protected spots millipedes enjoy.
Always read product labels and follow the instructions carefully.
GardenTech is a registered trademark of Gulfstream Home and Garden, Inc.
Sevin is a registered trademark of Tessenderlo Kerley, Inc.
Millipedes are not usually regarded as a pest in the garden as they usually only feed on leaf litter and other decaying vegetation. However, they can sometimes wander indoors and they do on occasion eat live vegetation, causing damage plants in the garden if their numbers grow out of hand. Millipedes are usually black and their many legs are under their sausage shaped bodies. Centipedes on the other hand have their legs out to the side of their body.
To get rid of millipedes follow these steps:
- Kiwicare LawnPro Protect can be sprinkled on soil and gravel areas where millipedes are found. It should be watered in well with a sprinkler or good shower of rain.
- To stop millipedes moving indoors apply a barrier of LawnPro Protect in a ring around the building and spray around the base of walls, around vents, doorways and windows with NO Bugs Super.
Centipedes and Millipedes
Q. I need a safe, effective way to get rid of centipedes and/or millipedes. (Not sure which I have.) They wander upstairs sometimes—ick!—so it's an emergency! It must be non-toxic. I would appreciate any suggestions. Thanks!
- ---Laurie in Royal Oak, Michigan
A. Centipedes tend to be tan in color, long-legged, look kind of like a dropped toupee, move very fast, and are rarely found in large numbers. Millipedes are thinner and rounder with many small legs, generally black in color, curl up when threatened, stink when crushed, and can appear in overwhelming numbers when Spring is overly wet, as they are creatures of moisture. Which do you have?
Q. We have centipedes. I run a dehumidifier and we don't see big bunches they show up one at a time right at bedtime, making our daughters get all upset. (I'm not crazy about them, but the girls are terrified.) I always thought they didn't actually live inside the house and just came in from outside. Is it true they eat spiders? And what should I do?
A. How about nothing? The house centipede (which is an indoor creature in the North, but mostly an outdoor dweller down South, despite its name) is a highly beneficial household helper, eating lots of fleas, ants, flies, silverfish, roaches, ticks and other pests. Forget about using insecticides against them, they ARE insecticides! Get rid of your centipedes and you will almost certainly increase the number of TRUE indoor pests in your home.
…Which most spiders, by the way, are not. Visible indoor spiders are harmless to humans, but deadly to pest insects. The only spiders that are dangerous to people are the legendary black widow, which lives outside in places like old wood piles and the recluse spiders, which as their name implies, stay hidden all the time (and appear in a very limited geographic area in the US). If you see big scary-looking spiders in your home (like the fabulous wolf spider) they are totally beneficial.
If your girls are young, explain that, like ladybugs, centipedes are our protective friends. If they scream "I don't care" and threaten to flush their Winnie the Pooh bedtime pal down the toidy, use a little hand vac and suck the centipedes up, or use a broom to knock them into a paper bag. Then release them into the garden, where they can continue to live their long, remarkable lives—they can live as long as five or ten years—eating pests out there.
Just don't complain if your house gets buggy.
Q. Mike, I'm a recent transplant from Boston and find gardening down here to be a veritable Eden-like experience. The soil is miraculous and the climate intoxicating for plants and wildlife. It's that second thing I'm writing about—a creature I never saw before I moved here that I believe is known as a millipede. Their distinguishing characteristics seem to be 1) an ability to get anywhere in my house, including THE BEDS on the second floor, causing no end of angst in my children and 2) a repugnant smell when you squish them. I thought I heard you say they only infest moist houses, but ours is air-conditioned with dehumidifiers in the basement and upstairs. But I'm still trying to learn how to live in the soup you call air here in the mid-Atlantic, and maybe I need to learn further dehumidifying techniques. Thanks so much for your guidance.
Can you please tell me what I can do to get rid of millipedes? They are in the thousands!
- ---Mandy in Old Washington, AR
A. Ah yes, the crush and sniff test. If that little black wormy guy smells like condensed cream of old gym socks when you step on him, you got millipedes. Outdoors in the garden, these creatures are 50/50 they aerate the soil and help break down organic matter, which is good, but experts warn that they will also sometimes attack young seedlings and fruits lying on the ground, like strawberries. The seedling part may well be true, but I think they only go after fruits when other creatures, like the noble slug, have already done some damage.
Indoors however, they are pure—a pure pain in the butt! Other than warning that your house is damp, they serve no purpose, and can show up in very disturbing numbers. Dehumidifiers and air conditioners are a good start, but may not be enough if your house is really damp. And when Spring is saturatingly wet, even multiple dehumidifiers can't keep up. So get some hydrometers (that's the fancy name for humidity indicators, like on those temperature, humidity and barometric pressure combos) and see how humid you are. If its 50% or above, you're damp.
You may have to do some work outdoors to alleviate the problem. Make sure rainwater is diverted far away from the house by extended gutters, and that rains are not allowed to come pouring into your cellar from something like a hill behind the house. Wait till Spring and cut back shrubbery overly close to the house so that air can circulate in between your plants will appreciate it as well.
You should wait until Spring because it can be very damaging to prune plants in the Fall prune NOTHING in the fall that isn't dead or heavily diseased. If the tree canopy overhead is denser than I am my first day back after a long vacation, have some branches thinned out over the winter (that's the best time to trim big trees).
If a multitude of millipedes still appears, sweep large numbers up with a broom or suck them up with a shop vac. Their name can be legion, so you may have to do this repeatedly. Be brave their numbers WILL decrease.
When you've gotten rid of enough that you can at least see the floor again, spread diatomaceous earth ("DE", a mined powder composed of the fossilized remains of ancient sea dwelling creatures that's sold to control slugs) or the dry form of boric acid, often labeled "roach powder". Both of these desiccating dusts will dehydrate creatures what encounter them. They are not dangerous in the chemical way, but you should always wear a dust mask when you apply any dusty substance.
Millipedes can be controlled. But you’ll need to be patient, persistent, and not squeamish!
By now, you should have everything you need to know to control, exterminate, and repel millipedes from your home and garden.
The key is to use a combination of these methods and see what works for YOU.
No two situations are alike.
And if none of them work, it may be time to consider hiring a professional exterminator.
If you have any questions, post a comment below. Or if you own this article useful, let me know also =].
Currently an active researcher in the pest control industry for the past 8 years- with a focus on using natural and organic methods to eliminate pest problems.
I share handy DIY pest techniques I come across here to help out others (and possibly save them from a mental breakdown).