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People often shudder at the sight of a centipede, but these multi-legged arthropods are beneficial predators that eat pests such as silverfish, other arthropods and even spiders. They are poisonous, but they rarely bite. If they do, the poison isn’t usually dangerous to humans, though it can cause problems in very young children and people with allergies. Centipedes can live up to six years, depending on the species, and survive the winter by finding good shelter.
How to Identify a Centipede
It’s not uncommon for people to get centipedes and millipedes confused, but they have different behaviors, eat different foods and live in different places. The quickest and easiest way to identify them is to look at their legs. Millipedes’ legs are underneath them, so that if you look down on them while they’re walking the legs aren’t very noticeable. The legs on centipedes stick out to the sides, giving them more of a feathery appearance. Most centipedes are also much faster than millipedes and can move quite rapidly, while millipedes tend to tromp along at a fairly sedate pace.
Centipedes lay their eggs in the late spring or early summer, and the young hatch anywhere from a few days to a few months later, though a few species have live young instead of laying eggs. The new babies are a larval form of the adults but they are recognizably centipedes from the start; they grow and molt repeatedly, shedding their skins as much as seven times on the way to adulthood. The process is done before winter, and all centipedes spend the winter as adults, not as eggs or larvae.
They don’t hibernate during the winter, but centipedes do need to find a sheltered spot to live in when it’s cold. Where they go depends on their overall environment. Common places for centipedes to find winter shelter include under rocks, in cracks in building walls and under the bark of old logs. They may also get into compost piles, trash heaps or piles of leaves; wherever they go must be moist or they can’t survive.
House centipedes live in houses all of their lives, though the people sharing the home with them may never see them. These arthropods don’t have to worry so much about winter, since houses are usually kept at a temperature that is comfortable for humans. If they end up outside in cold climates they’ll die when the temperature drops too far. They normally shelter in damp places in the home, including under basement slabs, under or between stacks of cardboard boxes, in bathrooms and under the kitchen sink.
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