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Centipedes – an ally in our battle against garden pests

Updated on October 23, 2018

Keep your ally, the centipede, in your garden.

Centipedes are highly valued as natural pest control, as they are predators of insects, spiders, small slugs and earthworms which they hunt by chasing them at high speed.

Lithobius forficatus
James Lindsey

They do not belong to the insects, but to a separate class of arthropods, the Chilopoda.

Appearance

Centipedes have one pair of legs per body segment and are generally seen when soil or compost are turned, or under objects resting on damp soil. In all centipedes the first pair of legs has been modified into hollow jaws, which are connected with poison glands.

As their skin is thin and dries out easily, they hide during the day and hunt during the night.

Three orders of centipede occur in Europe, of which two, the Lithobiomorpha and the Geophilomorpha are the most commonly found. Lithobiomorpha are relatively short and have 15 pairs of legs. Lithobius fornicates is one of the larger species of this order. Species of the Geophilomorpha, such as Cryptops hortensis, are long and thin with up to 90 pairs of short, strong legs. These species are blind and usually crawl through leaf litter and soil.

A picture of the species Geophilus flavus - This is one of the species with up to 90 pairs of legs.

Geophilus flavus
Photographer EndumEn

Biology

Males deposit packages of sperm (spermatophores) on a kind of web, which females pick up. Eggs are usually laid in the spring or early summer.

Female Lithobiomorpha lay eggs one by one, coat them with soil particles and leave them on their own. Newly-hatched larvae have just 7 pairs of legs, but more appear after each molt.

Females of some species of the Geophilomorpha guard their eggs and young by coiling around them, to protect them against enemies (see also picture below). They also lick them to protect them against infestation by fungi.

The orange footed centipede, Cormocephalus aurantipes - A species that looks after its eggs.

Cormocephalus aurantipes
Photographer Chicquita Burke - in the public domain

Natural enemies

Many centipedes will be eaten by birds, mice, salamanders, beetles and snakes, but some animals will avoid them, because of their poisonous bite. They have, for example, been shown to be a match for spiders of their own size. (See YouTube video below.)

A video showing a giant centipede attacking a tarantula

How to keep centipedes in your garden

As they prefer damp surroundings, place a small pile of rotting leaves or branches on damp soil, in which they can hide.

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    • LiteraryMind profile image

      Ellen Gregory 

      6 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      I found this interesting. But honestly, centipedes are up there with spiders with the creep factor.

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 

      6 years ago

      Very informative. I didn't know they were so beneficial.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      6 years ago

      i've been bitten a couple times by these critters and it really hurt.. i use to kill them on sight.. now that i know they could be beneficial i guess i'll have to learn how to live with them... thanks for the info

    • hntrssthmpsn profile image

      hntrssthmpsn 

      6 years ago

      Loved your centipede photos! We've quite a few of the little guys in our garden. They don't bother me (I think they're kinda cool looking), but I'd never realized they were so beneficial!

    • marlies vaz nunes profile imageAUTHOR

      Marlies Vaz Nunes 

      6 years ago from Amsterdam, the Netherlands

      @flycatcherrr: Your entomologist friend is quite right, of course. Actually, only about 1% of all insects is harmful to humans or is a serious pest. The others make that we are able to live on this planet. Without them, we would not be able to survive. Honestly.

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 

      6 years ago

      Centipedes are not among my favourite insects, I have to admit, but it's good to learn more about our beneficial little creepy-crawly garden friends... An entomologist friend told me years ago that something like 90% (more?) of garden insects here in Canada are either harmless or actively beneficial. I like to remember that. :)

    • marlies vaz nunes profile imageAUTHOR

      Marlies Vaz Nunes 

      6 years ago from Amsterdam, the Netherlands

      @anonymous: Once you get to know them better, you'll like them. :-p

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      6 years ago

      Real creeps!

    • profile image

      getwellsoon 

      6 years ago

      looks so creepy, but great lens. Thank you!

    • marlies vaz nunes profile imageAUTHOR

      Marlies Vaz Nunes 

      6 years ago from Amsterdam, the Netherlands

      @naturegirl7s: Thank you! For both the blessing and for featuring the article on your own lenses.

    • naturegirl7s profile image

      Yvonne L B 

      6 years ago from Covington, LA

      I really enjoyed your informative article and will be featuring it on a couple of my sustainable gardening lenses. Blessed.

    • Commandrix profile image

      Heidi 

      6 years ago from Benson, IL

      Interesting -- Good to know that centipedes are helpful bugs. I've seen them around my garden and wondered.

    • profile image

      JoshK47 

      6 years ago

      They're good bugs, but it doesn't stop them from making my skin crawl. Thanks kindly for sharing this!

    • profile image

      Auntie-M LM 

      6 years ago

      Oh dear, they look so yucky I would have killed them off had I not read this.

    • marlies vaz nunes profile imageAUTHOR

      Marlies Vaz Nunes 

      6 years ago from Amsterdam, the Netherlands

      @LisaMarieGabriel: Of course!

    • LisaMarieGabriel profile image

      Lisa Marie Gabriel 

      6 years ago from United Kingdom

      Good to see someone speaking out for the good bugs! :)

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