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Put down that newspaper! House centipedes look like spiders on steroids, and your first reaction to seeing one might be to kill it. But scary as it may seem, the house centipede, Scutigera coleoptrata, is really quite harmless. And if you've got other pests in your home, it's actually doing some good.
What Do House Centipedes Look Like?
Even people who appreciate bugs can be startled by a house centipede. A fully grown adult may reach 1.5 inches in body length, but its many long legs make it appear much larger. The last pair of legs on a female house centipede is elongated and may be twice as long as the body.
The house centipede is light yellow-brown in color, with three dark longitudinal stripes down its body. Its legs are marked with alternating bands of light and dark. House centipedes also have large compound eyes, which is unusual for centipedes.
Although the house centipede does possess venom, it rarely bites anything larger than itself. If you are bitten by Scutigera coleoptrata, you aren't likely to suffer much pain. Do take care to clean the wound to prevent a secondary infection.
How Are House Centipedes Classified?
Kingdom - Animalia
Phylum - Arthropoda
Class - Chilopoda
Order - Scutigeromorpha
Family - Scutigeridae
Genus - Scutigera
Species - coleoptrata
What Do House Centipedes Eat?
House centipedes are skilled hunters that prey on insects and other arthropods. Like all centipedes, their front legs are modified into "poison claws" used to inject venom into their prey. Within your home, they provide efficient (and free) pest control services for you, as they feed on silverfish, firebrats, cockroaches, carpet beetles, and other household pests.
The House Centipede Life Cycle
Female house centipedes can live as long as 3 years and produce between 35 and 150 eggs during their lifetimes. The first instar larvae have only four pairs of legs. Larvae progress through 6 instars, gaining legs with each molt. Although it has its full complement of 15 pairs of legs, the immature house centipede will then molt 4 more times to reach adulthood.
Interesting Behaviors of House Centipedes
The centipede makes good use of its long legs. It can run at alarming speeds -the equivalent of over 40 mph in human terms. It stops and starts quickly, which can make even the most diehard arthropod enthusiast squeal with fright. This athleticism isn't meant to scare you, though, the house centipede is simply well-equipped to pursue and catch prey.
Just as their speed helps them capture prey, it also enables the centipede to escape predators. If a predator does manage to grab a leg, the house centipede can shed the limb and flee. Strangely, the house centipede's detached leg will continue to move for several minutes after its owner has left the scene. House centipedes continue to molt as adults and will regenerate lost limbs when they do.
Where Do House Centipedes Live?
Whether it lives outdoors or in, the house centipede prefers cool, damp, and dark locations. In a natural habitat, it can be found hiding under leaf litter or hidden in shady crevices in rocks or tree bark. In human dwellings, house centipedes often inhabit basements and bathrooms. In northern climates, house centipedes remain indoors during cold months but may be seen outside from spring to fall.
The house centipede is thought to be native to the Mediterranean region, but Scutigera coleoptrata Is now well-established throughout Europe, North America, and Asia.
- House Centipedes, Entomology Dept., Penn State University. Accessed online June 3, 2014.
- Species Scutigera coleoptrata - House Centipede, Bugguide.net. Accessed online June 3, 2014.
- House Centipedes on the Move, What's Bugging You?, Dr. Arthur Evans. Accessed online