What’s that Crawling in the Garage?

Ever see a creepy, crawly, worm-like creature with oodles of legs in your yard or even in your house?  Could be a centipede or a millipede.  These strange looking critters are not insects – they’re more closely related to lobsters, crayfish, and shrimp, but are land dwellers. They’re most active at night around moist habitats or areas with high humidity.

With their elongated, worm-like body and many pairs of legs, centipedes are easy to spot. Often called “hundred-leggers,” the actual number of legs in most species is closer to 30.  Adult centipedes are usually brownish, more than an inch long, with large, claw-like structures that contain a venom gland.

They like damp, dark places; outdoors under stones, leaf mulch, or logs. Indoors, you might see them in damp areas of basements, closets, or bathrooms, or anywhere in the home where insects occur. During the day they hide in dark cracks and crevices, coming out at night to search for insects to eat.  They’re beneficial – they capture flies, cockroaches, and other small household pests, never damaging plants or household items. But beware – when provoked, some large centipedes can inflict a painful bite that may cause localized swelling, discoloration, and numbness. If you want to reduce their numbers, remove their food source – other household pests. Airing out damp places may also help.

Millipedes are also worm-like, light brown to black with rounded body segments, and from less than one to two or more inches long. The name “millipede” translates to “a thousand feet,” though most species have fewer than a hundred.  While they can easily climb walls, millipedes often enter homes through foundation cracks above ground level. They sometimes find their way into garages, but they’re mostly harmless to homes and people.

Living in and feeding on rotting leaves, rotting wood, and other kinds of moist, decaying plant matter, millipedes are generally beneficial. However, when they become numerous, they may damage sprouting seeds, seedlings, or strawberries and other ripening fruits in contact with the ground. When disturbed they don’t bite, but some species exude a defensive liquid that can irritate skin or burn the eyes.

Control is rarely needed since millipedes do not cause damage indoors and pose a minimal health hazard. Those that stray indoors can be swept out or picked up and released back outdoors. Sealing cracks and other openings to the outside helps prevent millipedes from entering. Usually, invasions are over within a few days.

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