Looking in our bathroom mirror offers up all kind of horrors – and today was no different. As it turned out it was only a house centipede. On closer inspection it was quite cute unlike a scolopendra whose glossy tiger stripes and revolting legs are sure to send most things running – except our cats who think they are toys to play with, just like their stuffed mice. (Talking of which, a collection of headless voles and mice have begun to appear on the front door step like a rodent Black Death collection point.)
Back to the leggy thing. It hoovers up insects and spiders, so having a resident Scutigera coleoptrata – like a teenager who won’t leave home but occasionally washes the dishes – isn’t such a bad thing. The fact that house centipedes eat spiders, cockroaches, bed bugs, termites, silverfish and ants suggests our home is a smörgåsbord of delights.
A bit of Googling tells us they like dark, damp places – hence spotting this one in the bathroom. Some live in people’s house all their lives although most live outside where they stay under piles of wood, debris and stones. They mustn’t get too cold or dehydrate as they haven’t got any way to deal with it.
Luckily they are the size they are as running 0.4 metres per second (including up walls and over ceilings) is no problem for them. And they’re clever little things and know who to pick on. If they sting/bite prey and get a bit tangled up, they can detach a leg or two, move away and wait for the venom to to its job. It’s very unlikely we’ll be at the sharp end of one and if we were, its sting/bite is similar to a bee’s.
Despite the name, centipedes – there are around 8,000 species – always have an odd number of pairs of legs, meaning no centipede has exactly 100 legs. Our one has 15 pairs (we think).
Scutigera coleoptrata are indigenous to the Mediterranean but have spread to other parts of Europe, North and South America, South Africa and Australia. There’s even a date when they first arrived in New York – 1885. Why they’d go there, nobody knows – perhaps it had lots of cockroaches.
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