House Centipede (Scutigera coleoptrata)

A  Scutigera coleoptrata found in my brothers bedroom in the South of France.
A Scutigera coleoptrata found in my brothers bedroom in the South of France.

With incredibly long legs, they move at rapid speeds and inhabit our homes, house centipedes (Scutigera coleoptrata) are a common household invertebrate. They are found in many parts of the world, and are both feared and disliked by many people. However, I feel that this reputation is unjust as they are both very useful and interesting. When I visited the South of France two years ago I found multiple Scutigera in the house, all of which were quite considerably sized, this time however I hadn’t seen any until the other evening. We were all dissipating into our bedrooms when I get a call from my brother who had found one in his room and wished it to be removed. I was quite excited that one had finally showed up (despite it being pretty small), so i caught it, photographed it and released it (back into the house, shhh). Seeing one, and my families reaction to it, reminded me why I find them so interesting and I decided that they deserved a spot on my blog. So here is some information on the unjustly judged house centipede.

Identification
S.coleoptrata have elongated flattened bodies of 1 to 1.5 inches long and like all centipedes they have one pair of legs per body segment (unlike millipedes which have two pairs per segment). Adult Scutigera coleoptrata have 15 pairs of legs with the last pair in adult females being extra long (sometimes almost double the length of their body). With these long legs they make them appear considerably larger and can look up to 4 inches long. Their bodies are a dirty yellow in colouration with three dark longitudinal stripes, the legs are also banded with stripes. The long back legs have the same appearance to antennae so from a distance it can be difficult to tell the two ends apart (this is known as automimicry). Juveniles have fewer legs and gain more with each molt. Their heads support a pair of large, well developed (which is uncommon in centipedes), multi-faceted eyes and a pair of modified front legs, called forcipules, which are used for venom injection.

Habitat and distribution
House centipedes inhabit damp, humid places because they are unable to close their spiracles, therefore they need humidity to avoid dehydration. Outside they are commonly found under rocks, in woodpiles and compost heaps. They are also frequently found in houses (hence the name) where they are normally found in basements, bathrooms and roofs as the places can all be damp and humid. However they do venture into other rooms to hunt.

Scutigera coleoptrata are native to the Mediterranean region, where they are a very common household creature, but they have inhabited much of Europe, Asia and North America. They can also sometimes be found in the basements of homes in the South of England.

Behaviour
They are most commonly seen darting rapidly across the floor or walls, stopping suddenly and then resuming their speedy movement. They can move incredibly fast, reaching speeds of 0.4 m/s (16 in/s). S. coleoptrata, like other centipedes, are nocturnal animals and are rarely seen during the day but they leave their dark hiding spaces at night and venture out to hunt.
Being insectivores they feast on a variety of invertebrates such as: silverfish, cockroaches and spiders. They catch their prey by pouncing on them and holding the item in their legs and mandibles, the forcipules are then used to inject the prey with venom.

Reproduction
Mating is initiated by contact between the male and female using their antennae, the male then deposits his sperm on the ground for the female to pick up. The females lay numerous eggs (up to 150) in early spring. The young go through six larval moults and four post-larval moults before they reach maturity. After hatching the young centipedes only have 4 pairs of legs and then gain leg pairs at each of the six larval moults, the sequence being 4-5-7-9-11-13 pairs of legs. There are then four more moults, at the next one they gain two more pairs of legs (reaching 15) and then continue to moult three more times before maturity, although they do not gain anymore pairs of legs. If a leg becomes trapped they are able to drop that leg and then regrow it when they moult again.

Despite their gangly appearance, rapid movements and venom injecting forcipules we have nothing to fear from house centipedes and if anything should be grateful for the free pest control that they provide in our homes. Despite having venom they rarely bite and normally their forcipules are unable to pierce human skin. And in the rare event that they are able to inject venom into a human the result is only about as bad as a bee sting, although they can sometimes produce an allergic reaction. So next time you find a house centipede in your home leave it be as they are both fascinating and useful.

And if you are still not convinced and are unsure how to feel towards the house centipede there is a song on YouTube all about them and why you should keep them in your home!
Link to the YouTube song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3W3R3EElMho

A larger House Centipede found in our house on holiday in the South of France two years ago.
A larger House Centipede found in our house on holiday in the South of France two years ago.

Sources

http://bugguide.net/node/view/25

http://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/house-centipedes

http://www.uark.edu/ua/arthmuse//house_centipede.html

http://www.xojane.com/fun/5-things-you-didnt-know-about-house-centipedes

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