You and your family aren’t the only animals in your house. Many other critters lurk in the hidden nooks and crannies of your dwelling. These creepy-crawlies are often out of sight and out of mind, but every now and then, one bursts forth in spectacular fashion to remind us we share quarters with some undesirable “camp followers.”
Depending on your inclinations, one of the coolest or creepiest of these unwanted domestics is the house centipede ( Scutigera coleoptrata). If one of these many-legged arthropods scuttles out of the woodwork, it is sure to be noticed. Its creep factor is enormous. House centipedes don’t walk or run as much as they glide, sort of like a spooky undulating feather magically levitating across the wall. They aren’t tiny, either — a magnificent specimen can stretch the tape to 2 inches. That is big enough to elicit shrieks of terror.
Fortunately, house centipedes usually do their wandering under cover of darkness, and thus seldom clue in homeowners to their presence. If you’re really curious, drop down to the basement with a flashlight and start probing the dark recesses of crawl spaces and junky corners. You’ve got a good chance of unearthing a house centipede.
Centipedes are predators and adept at running down and slaying prey. When on the hunt, the centipede constantly tests the road ahead with its sensitive antennae. When a victim is sensed, the many-legged monster pounces and injects potent venom via a set of modified legs. If there is an upside to this horror show, it is the fact that the centipede is generally offing other undesirables such as ants, bedbugs, spiders, silverfish and cockroaches. If we continue with an optimistic outlook, we can also be glad that house centipedes aren’t 4 feet long and eyeing us hungrily.
House centipedes originally hailed from the Mediterranean region but hopped into people’s baggage long ago. They’re good travelers and now occur throughout much of the world, although almost always close to people. While these centipedes can flourish outdoors, they aren’t particularly cold-tolerant, and autumn’s chill drives them back indoors with us.
That soft tickle across your cheek that snaps you from sleepy reverie in the wee hours? You don’t want to know.
Naturalist Jim McCormac writes a column for The Dispatch on the first and third Sundays of the month. He also writes about nature at www.jimmccormac. blogspot.com.