As we get down and dirty in the soil as we prepare our gardens for another growing season, we encounter all kinds of insects and invertebrates. An interesting creature that you may find in your garden is the stone centipede. This animal is known to scientists as Lithobiomorpha or stone dweller. This reddish brown invertebrate can grow up to 1 3/4 inches long.
Centipedes are related to insects but are classified as their own separate group. There are some similarities between centipedes and millipedes which are closely related but they are easy to distinguish. First, centipedes have one pair of conspicuous legs per body segment while millipedes have two pairs of very short legs per segment. Centipedes also move quickly while millipedes are slow. Centipedes have flattened bodies with a conspicuous pair of antennae while millipedes possess cylindrical bodies and very short antennae.
Stone centipedes have 15 pairs of short legs. House centipedes, another common type of centipede, also have 15 pairs of legs but their legs are considerably longer. However, our tropical centipede species have 21 - 23 pairs of legs while soil centipedes possess 29 or more pairs of legs. Although centipede means 100 legs, you won't find any with that exact number as centipedes always possess pairs of legs in odd numbers.
The first pair of legs in all centipedes are modified into poison-filled fangs which they use to paralyze their prey, insects, spiders, and other small invertebrates. Stone centipedes generally don't have a good eyesight but will rely on touch to detect its victims. They live in protected, usually moist habitats and are found under mulch, leaves, loose bark, stones, logs, and similar sites. Some stone centipedes can throw drops of sticky material with their back legs at threatening creatures to protect themselves.
Stone centipedes are harmless to people and are rarely found indoors. Just ignore them when you find them in your garden or other places around the outside of your home. Should you find any in your home, physical removal is the only necessary control. Insecticides are not necessary.
Published in Yard & Garden Line News, April 15, 2004