Friday, July 24, 2009

House Centipedes

One of the most confounding, and arguably creepiest, creatures I am asked about at has to be the “house centipede,” Scutigera coleoptrata. Neither insect nor arachnid, it is variously described to me as spidery, an animated feather, a speeding, ghostly apparition, and plenty of other epithets born out of both fear and fascination.

This species seems to be genuinely domestic, occurring mostly in and around human habitations where these venomous predators prowl in search of other invertebrates to eat. It is thought to have originated in the Mediterranean region, but unless one starts speaking Italian or Greek, you could fool me. International commerce has now succeeded in transporting the house centipede to virtually all inhabited corners of the globe anyway.

Related species in the genus often live in caves, and indeed the long legs and antennae of this animal are characteristic of habitats where visual acuity is much less important than a sense of touch. The lanky build of these creatures also makes them appear much larger than the 25-35 mm body length of the average specimen. Couple that with the incredible speed at which they can travel, and you have the heebie-jeebies come to life. I confess they can even freak me out at times because they can climb walls and scurry across ceilings at about Mach 7.

Fortunately, house centipedes are totally harmless to people and pets (well, if you have a flea circus I guess you’d better be careful). I encourage folks who encounter house centipedes to just let them continue their pest control patrol, like this one is doing, or usher the centipede into a container and release it outdoors in a woodpile, rock wall, or other sheltered situation where it will be equally happy hunting for food and mates. Those approaches are certainly preferable to "Honey, can you get me a shoe? A really big shoe?"


  1. These guys definitely never fail to get a reaction. My post on these guys is probably one of my top-ten subjects that I continue to get hits on (it was also one of the earliest I did, back in Feb 08). They inspired a discussion I had with a few friends, also mentioned in that post, on what bug you have a personal phobia of (mine's earwigs). I can't seem to add a hyperlink for some reason, so the post is at:

  2. Like pseudoscorpions, I treat these as friends who are here to help me. Mind you, I love insects and don't share the general terror most people have of them...

  3. My husband just captured a house centipede (I shiver evertime I look at it), but we can't help be amazed by it as well. We are going to let it out in our garden - maybe it will eat the aphids.....Does anyone know the average land speed of these crazy creatures?

  4. Is there a way to keep them out of a specific room? I don't mind them much if they're in the living room or bathroom. I just don't want them in my bedroom. I read that a dehumidifier would work since it'll take away the moisture and make it less favorable for them.

    1. House centipedes do not require much in the way of moisture. They are prey-dependent, though, so keeping your home free of insects and spiders will help. I doubt you could make any *room* off-limits to them. They are either in the house or they aren't.


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