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Chicago's house centipede infestation

Why you might be seeing more than a few of these bugs this year

  • The 30-legged house centipede thrives in humid conditions with many smaller bugs on which to feed.
The 30-legged house centipede thrives in humid conditions with many smaller… (Wikimedia Commons )
July 09, 2012|Harry Huggins | For RedEye

Have you seen this bug? Chicagoans have reported seeing more of these creepers, known as house centipedes (Scutigerida coleoptrata), scurrying around their homes this summer.

The inch-long creature with 15 pairs of long, thin legs is known as one of the fastest moving house bugs. But as scary as they may be to the unsuspecting homeowner, house centipedes provide a welcome service. According to Phil Nixon, extension entomologist at the University of Illinois, the centipedes eliminate other critters living in your home.

"They're like a strange-looking, fast spider," Nixon said. "They are feeding on bugs that might otherwise be a problem to you in the house."

Those bugs are one of the reasons you might see more house centipedes this year. According to Nixon, there is a high migration this year of earwigs and field crickets moving into Chicago-area homes. Although Nixon hasn't experienced an increase in calls about house centipedes, he said that an increase on these other bugs would provide more food in homes for house centipedes.

Another reason Nixon cited is higher humidities in modern homes. Nixon said house centipedes thrive in humid areas, and with newer homes being more airtight with humidifiers running much of the time, they become more hospitable places for insects.

"Generally, they are found in houses around plumbing: in the bathroom, in the kitchen, in a damp basement," Nixon said.

The Chicago-area's drought also could play a part in any spike in the centipedes' appearance.

Lawn and flower bed watering might attract house centipedes, as the moisture from that would attract them and concentrate them around the house, and they can easily find a way in.

"They'll flatten down and get right under the door crack," Nixon said. "They can fit as small as an eighth of an inch."

Fortunately, they pose no real threat to humans. Except terror.

"There's no real downside to them, except being scared out of your mind, or if you get bent out of shape about seeing a bug," Nixon said. The bugs can bite if you're fast enough to catch one, but they won't do real damage, he said.

If you are looking to prevent house centipedes from entering your home, Nixon recommends doing your best to drop the humidity of your home. Fixing leaks in a roof or drainpipe, running a dehumidifier, caulking cracks and making sure there is no dead organic matter around your foundation are all ways to accomplish this. In more extreme cases, an aerosol cockroach spray can help in specific areas.

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