Wednesday, 23 March 2011

House Centipede

Image: Bruce Marlin
Last week we learned all about the Silverfish. Today we look at another creepy-crawly that sometimes gets called a silverfish even though it's not silver, is in no way fishy and is just completely different in general. In fact, calling this little monster a silverfish would be deeply insulting to the both of them. Why? Because this is the House Centipede, a predatory myriapod which eats, amongst other things, silverfish.

I think some sensitivity to the plight of the poor old silverfish is in order, no?

Image: e_monk
The House Centipede originated in the Mediterranean but they have managed to somehow get themselves all over the world. Many still live outdoors but, much like silverfish, they find the warmth of human abodes make for a wonderful habitat, especially when it starts to get cold out. They may even pay you for the shelter you're so kindly offering them. Not in money, unfortunately, but in labour. So long as that labour involves killing and eating little insects, anyway.

Aside from silverfish, ants, termites, cockroaches and bedbugs can all find themselves becoming grist for the House Centipede's mandible. That's quite a cabal of household horrors! Actually, almost anything with an exoskeleton is unwanted in most homes, so House Centipedes can't help but be an effective insecticide that also happens to leave far fewer corpses lying around. The only problem is that they themselves have an exoskeleton. Aside from that, they can't put a foot wrong!

Well, they can also sting and cause swelling and a rash... also, they reach some 1 or 2 inches in length and scurry around at night... but aside from that, and the way they look... OK, House Centipedes have quite a few problems to overcome if they want to become a welcome member of the family. They put quite a few feet wrong, not least by having up to 30 feet.

Video: Pricia

I guess you can't call them "leggy blondes", can you? Those long, spindly legs are pretty extraordinary, though. It all looks tremendously complicated and leaves them almost comically lanky.

You may notice that their back legs are the longest and they get shorter and shorter as you reach the head. This isn't a preposterous attempt at being aerodynamic, it actually means that each leg can step over the ones in front so they can run around with surprising speed without tripping over themselves. Those legs are also quite fragile and break off easily to aid them in an escape, leaving them with a mere 29 legs. Calamity! They'll be regrown with the next moult, though. Phew!

House Centipedes also have long antennae that are used to smell and feel their way around and some of the best eyes in the centipede world. That isn't saying a whole lot since a lot of centipedes have no eyes at all, but the House variety are very sensitive to ultraviolet light for some reason. They're nocturnal and spend their time under rocks, what's all that vision for? In any case, it's all good enough for the hunt, and that's the main thing.

Image: Tim Gage
Like all centipedes, the first pair of legs have become pincer-shaped forcipules and are used to sting. The venom is powerful enough to kill their prey and House Centipedes have even been seen attacking wasps and waiting patiently for the venom to take affect. Less deadly prey can simply be leapt on and overcome without fear of reprisal. It's tactical thinking like that which ensures House Centipedes can live for 3 to 7 years depending on just how clement their environment is.

Mating occurs in the Spring, where the female lays more or less 100 eggs. She looks after them for several weeks, holding them in her legs and cleansing them of fungus. She will even keep hold of the larvae after they hatch. I suppose she's worried because at that point they only have 8 legs. 8 measly legs! Eventually she must let go, whereupon dozens of young House Centipedes march off to begin their lives. Party at your house!


Simsmac said...

These guys are icky, especially when you find them in your bathroom. :P

Crunchy said...

I find these guys in my place every autumn and try to remind myself that they're effective pest control and mean me no harm and in all likelihood love me. I've read that when they die they become food for a lot of the insects they like to eat, though, so I try to um... clean them up whenever I see them. I've noticed how they seem to intentionally shed their legs in order to get away from me, even if they're not always that smart about it. Once I picked one up with a tissue and it shed all 30 of its legs. Oops. Either that or I broke them all off in which case I'm a horrible barbarian and I'm sorry.

Did you know they're considered to be good luck in Japan?

Joseph JG said...

@N: Yeh, it's not great to find creatures in the bathroom. It's probably the worst place of all, in fact. Which is unfortunate because bathrooms are warm and damp and exactly the kind of environment these guys like most. Maybe we and the House Centipede are not so different after all?

@Crunchy: It shed ALL it's legs...?? Yuck! I didn't know they went THAT far! Or, as you say, perhaps I didn't know YOU would go that far... tut tut.

I didn't know they were considered good luck in Japan, no. But quite a few people over there keep beetles as pets. I think they can even rent them out for the day, which is... nice.

Crunchy said...

I didn't mean it! I was gentle! :(

Bill said...

These house centipedes are really very beautiful. I like the way the light penetrates the exoskeleton and you can see what's going on inside. I wish I were like that!

Joseph JG said...

@Crunchy: Hmmm. I guess since you're here at Real Monstrosities you must surely be a trust worthy, intelligent and cultivated individual, so I can't help but believe you! ;)

@bill: Wow, Bill! You must have supreme self assurance to espouse such sentiments. I'm sure people have been thrown out of villages for saying stuff like that. I'm very impressed!

For the record, I'm sure you look great with your insides on the inside and completely covered and unseen. Don't change a thing!

Anonymous said...

I don't mind these guys, in theory, but little harder in practise. I'm going to try to get rid of these guys by reducing the dampness and sealing cracks and whatnot, since I'm a bit paranoid a centipede might somehow sneak into the snail terrarium and eat them.

One other good reason I'm going to rid my house of them is because of this uncanny pattern in the wood panelling which just resembles a giant one of these guys way too much. Here's a link with a picture of this:

Joseph JG said...

Reducing damp and sealing cracks sounds like a great idea. I really know what you mean about the in theory and in practise thing. It's not easy to have things crawling around the place at night, you're never quite sure what they might do.

I had to laugh at that wood thing! It's a really common pattern in wood and I've seen it many times (I've never before asked myself what it actually is). This is the first time I've seen a resemblance to a centipede. On the one hand your completely right, on the other, I think you really need to deal with your centipede problem. It can't be good to see centipedes in planks of wood!

Unknown said...

Greetings folks... these centipedes are like a phobia to me.. I won't ever get used to them. Here is a fact. They came from the caves within the mediterranean areas. In japan... the folks call them gejigeji. Henceforth house centipede. Ladies and gentlemen... these things are extremely scary. Imagine sleeping with them... folks the ones in japan are like 3 times the original here in north america. Heck they grow up to like 5 to 6 inches... those gejigeji can JUMP.. lol. I saw a picture with about one hundred of the giant house centipedes in a cave. I fainted. Imagine being in a cave with hundreds of house centipedes. Thank evolution for this...

Joseph JG said...

Haha! That sounds delightfully terrifying!

Unknown said...

I am a full time homemaker.. lately i have been finding these guys everywher! after learning from this site that they're good, still have mixed feelings about their presence, only for my daughters sake. she's 18months old and gets into anything and everything. and refuses shoes. i am.constantly checking her crib, ect.

Unknown said...

Also she's my shadow. so no matter what i do she will be right there getting into under around and touching what's even out of my reach. the centipedes are 2-3 inches long. i find them in every room. I never see any other insects in my home, I'm guessing due to those guys. Yet still i am torn. i fear finding one crawling on my baby or in her crib

Joseph JG said...

Hmmmm... An unfortunate conundrum. I cab't really advise you too much but it sound like getting rid of them could well end up with who-knows-what replacing them. Hopefully they'll move out soon enough if there isn't anything left to feed on.

Unknown said...

I had huge house centipedes problems before (with huge house centipedes!). I eradicated them by doing a few common sense things:
1) Sealing up all cracks in baseboards, regardless of how small.
2) Sealing up all holes in the walls, especially around plumbing.
3) Sealing up/screening any unused drains.
4) Screening all vents.
5) Sealing off cracks in the front doors with door borders.

These ways are safer and cheaper than pesticides. I used duct tape and transparent tape for some of these repairs, as I am not very handy.

Of course, cleaning the house regularly also helps.

Joseph JG said...

Good point. There are many ways of making a home inhospitable to creepy crawlies!

vic said...

i have one of these as a pet they are cute and easy to take care of and handle just have to be fast. see link

Joseph JG said...

That's adorable! I'm so glad you've shown that man and House Centipede need not be enemies!

"...he seems to like the heads the best"

Hahaha! Relish that sentence because you won't get to say it often.

And thanks for the link!

Unknown said...

I started a Facebook Page on these weird creatures. info on how to keep them in line so they don't over populate and info about them as well. please when you get the time on Facebook like my page and check it out, also laugh at my funny pics!!! here is the FB page: House Centipede You In My House? thnx u all check it out!!!

Joseph JG said...


I sincerely doubt they would ever do that!

Unknown said...

If you ever see a centipede in your house, take that as proof that you have no cockroaches and no bedbugs.
With centipedes you don't have to poison yourself or your kids to be pest free.
Once you appreciate what they do, you will think they are so cute and cuddly.
Well, maybe not cuddly.

Joseph JG said...


Shame it isn't more cuddly. All those legs would make for epic cuddles!

musical irene said...

I recently moved into a small studio an an historic building (old!) and there have been quite a few centipede visitors in the night. I don't seem to be able to catch them so I end up just chasing them away. One afternoon when I came home from work I noticed both my cats were in the bathtub playing with a huge centipede. I use the word 'playing" deliberately because I stood and watched the three of them silently for about a minute, and was amazed at how unafraid the insect was of the two mammals. It just waddled around as though it were teasing the cats. Finally I yelled, "Hey! and stomped my foot." The cats froze to look at me and the centipede zipped down the drain as fast as lightning. Very curious. It was as if it knew I was dangerous, and the cats were not.

Joseph JG said...

Wow, that's really bizarre! I think cats quite often have strange relationships with various animals around them. It's like they have a kind of 'honour amongst predators'.

Unknown said...

I found mine in the Coastal Area of Texas, I was very excite!! I'm always looking for crawlies that I've never seen before. I once was lucky to find Mantifly that looked like a yellow jacket out here.

Joseph JG said...

Those are two fantastic creatures, lucky you!

Unknown said...

Tough call, but I would probably recommend killing them in this case. Unfortunately they may represent a threat to a baby if they bite and family comes first 👍. If I had a baby or child I would be on Pest Control big time. Hugzz

Lee said...

This is just a fantastic comment though and through. Good job, sir.

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