Centipedes – an ally in our battle against garden pests
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.
They do not belong to the insects, but to a separate class of arthropods, the Chilopoda.
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.
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.
Photographer Chicquita Burke - in the public domain
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.