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House Centipede

Not long ago, I was at my desk in my office when a shadowy movement flickered through the corner of my eye. I glanced over to see this wraithlike leggy arthropod shimmer up the wall at lightning speed. Rather than disappear into a crevice or cranny as they so often do, it paused. My lucky day! With camera at hand, I was able to get some shots.

House Centipedes, Scutigera coleoptrata, are the House Sparrows of the Arthropod world. They are native only to the Mediterranean, but have been spread far and wide across the globe. Like the sparrow, they are not often found far from human dwellings, at least in this neck of the woods. They were first found in the States in 1849, and have since colonized much of the continent.

Kind of hard to tell which end is which, eh? The term for that - head looking like tail - is automimicry, and the idea is to fool predators into snapping at the wrong end. The centipede's head is at the bottom in the above photo. Fooled me - took the Sentimental Sapsucker to set me right! (see comments)

Check those legs - 15 pairs! All those feet make for a real speed demon, and House Centipedes can allegedly cover an astonishing 16 inches in a second. Anyone who has ever seen one at full gallop would probably believe that claim.

Unlike millipedes, which have far more legs, albeit stubbier ones, centipedes are predators. They use their tremendous speed to run down, capture and kill lesser critters such as spiders and small insects. I HAD a very nice pair of House Spiders, Parasteatoda tepidariorum, and their web by the window where I saw this leggy killer. Note: HAD. I think I know what became of them. So, what do you fear the most? Spiders, or horrifying speed demons that look like a ghostly feather and startle the bejeezus out of you when they dash across the wall? At least the legged feather kills and eats the spiders!

The biting parts are armed with venom glands. Not to fear - it's mouth parts are too small to penetrate our skin, but spiders are not so lucky.

Chances are good that some of these fascinating creatures reside in YOUR dwelling. They're generally nocturnal and prone to lurking in humid climes, which typically relegates them to the basement. And if you are like most people, chances are you're more afraid of spiders than centipedes, so it might be best to just let 'em be. They'll be hard at work when you are sleeping, scuttling about spider-hunting.

Plus, let it be known that House Centipedes have incredible longevity. If all goes well, one can last for seven years. Thoughtlessly crush one, and you've just made paste of an animal that can outlive most songbirds. Better to allow them to guard the basement, serving as efficient spider sentinels.


No offense, but are you sure which end is which? I don’t have any way to prove it, off the top of my head, but I believe your Scutigera is head down.
- Unless mine have been running around backwards… (And if that’s the head, I no longer think they’re cute!)
Jim McCormac said…
My bad - you're right sentimental sapsucker - I was totally backwards on that! Thanks for the catch!

I just brought in my house plants and there are a few of the outside ones inside right now. I hope they stay in the house plants for the winter. I haven't noticed this insider scuttling about before. Those horrid camel crickets are partying under the house now and sometimes one of them will try to come in. Now they are a creepy lot bounding around. Good for nothing I am sure and just try to catch one to toss it out. Ha...
Wanda said…
You are telling me I should be thankful if I were to see one...I will TRY to remember that in my time of alarm!
OpposableChums said…
Very cool pix of a very Seuss-ian critter.
dAwN said…
Shudder...yikes..why do those things freak me out? Thank goodness I live in an far none seen...will leave them in your basement thanks!
Anonymous said…
Jim, your top photo composure is great - Centipede ‘wall art’!
I doubt that Lisa’s garden-variety centipedes will stay put in houseplants. I had one tickle me from a deep sleep on the sofa one night. But I’ll take a centipede over an earwig acting out “The Tingler” (1959 Vincent Price film) on my neck any night.

By the by, Get some sleep!

Mephitis bucca
Jana said…
Thanks for the close-ups... I think. They're still creepy crawly. I'm going to have to work a little harder at appreciating them. Shudder.

Another house denizen for you to explain would be silverfish.
Glad to see one of my favorites as the star of your show.
I notice many of these in public bathrooms--probably because of the moisture factor and perhaps the darkness after hours(?)
And they certainly can skedaddle!
I love watching them glide across the floor on all those feathery legs!!
Anonymous said…
I found 1 at work in Liverpool UK, I have pictures, I had it in a plastic cup. It's must have come over in a Cargo ship, it was found in the reception in my work by the docks.
Anonymous said…
We are over run with them in our house. I see at least 5 a day!!! So you lovers of these creepy many legged creatures come and pick up a few to take home with you!!! I gag just being near one. I understand why they are good but EEEKK!!! They scare the crap out of me!
Anonymous said…
When I first saw one I was with my friend he's just like wtf is that I look over and I'm like o hell no and go across the room

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