animalia arthropoda chilopoda scutigeromorpha scutigeridae scutigera coleoptrata

Update, August 2010

The page you find below was originally constructed in the Fall of 2001, when I moved to a first-floor apartment. Since then I have lived in four different places, including one move from DC to Chicago, and have revised my views on the subject, which is reflected in the section on controlling these bugs.

Scutigera-coleoptrata is the latin name for the most fearsome creature ever to enter my home, the house centipede.  We first met when I visited my new apartment in Northeast Washington.  It was 3:00pm, a beautiful day, and when I walked into my new kitchen, sitting in the newly renovated sink was the ugliest creature I had ever seen.  15 pair of long skinny legs, two long antennae, and an inch and a half-long body that would make Loreena Bobbitt think twice.  To tell you the truth, I wanted my sizable deposit back.  But I thought that like most infestations, I would be able to keep rid of them as long as we were diligent about cleaning up food and clutter.  As it turns out,  that's not the case with scutigera-coleoptrata.  I would later find out that the house centipede is not attracted to what most humans would consider food.  It is well-documented that rats, cockroaches, and most types of household mold are attracted to lettuce, tomatoes, beef, and cream cheese alike.  The house centipedes (and most other species of centipede, for that matter) are hunters. They capture and eat live prey, particularly smaller insects, some so small that we don't even know we have them living in our homes.  No amount of pesticide (professionally administered, of course) will get rid of them, and they rarely venture out in the open during the day, so controlling them by killing them on sight is nearly impossible.  I estimate that for every centipede I see (which is usually about 1 every other day, always in the evenings) there are at least 10 or 20 that I don't.  And if you and I don't kill them, they're not going anywhere.  I initially had no cat or dog, so the only natural enemy these insects had was ME.  Unlike a fly, which basically lives as long as it takes to reproduce, the house centipede has a life-span of up to about 5 years.  And it's not like killing them is easy once you find one.  Their reaction time and senses are very good--they have compound eyes, and can see you approaching (ever try to sway a fly with your hand?)  They have 15 pair of legs (one pair per body segment), and the ability to lock their long bodies rigid, so that they don't drag on the walking--no, running--surface.  I've been told that one way to stop them is to spray them with some sort of aerosol.  Don't be tempted to do what I did, however, and spray the aerosol can over a lighter.  I can satisfy your curiosity about 2 things.  First, the bug will get out of the way before you hit it with the flame.  Second, your flammable drapes will not move out of the way before they catch fire.   And when you do successfully squash one, you will be rather unhappy with the huge brown stain that it leaves on your wall.  Sometimes they leave a few legs behind, too, which just makes you feel bad for them.  Perhaps the only thing about these beasts that makes them less awful than cockroaches (aside from the fact that having them in your apartment is not a sign of scuzziness) is that the females only carry one egg at a time, so there is no danger of reinfesting an entire area by killing just one.

Thanks to David Kadavy for sending me this disgusting photo (left side--click to enlarge). Thanks to Spam Man for the one on the right.

It's been many years now since we've met, and my sick fascination with house centipedes led to this website, which in turn led to hundreds of emails from readers, all of which I was hoping would cure my terrible fear of them. But still, every time I see one of these things, I get a shiver up and down my spine.  Unlike most monsters, centipedes don't care if the covers are pulled over your head.  They'll still jump off the ceiling or wall and land in your bed. If you'll believe it, even looking at the pictures I have here makes me kind of queasy. I had this talk with my roommate once where I wondered aloud as to how many were actually in my apartment at any given time.  I thought at that point about what it would look like if I could just take all of the centipedes in my home and put them together in a jar.  Would there be 2? 20? 500? Imagining them writhing in a nest together is the sort of thing that will keep me up at night.

Eating habits

  • Scutigera-Coleoptrata eats mostly other small arthropods.
  • It doesn't eat your food; hence having an infestation is not necessarily a sign that your kitchen is too messy.
  • The animal prefers to hunt at night or in cover of darkness.
  • In an environment such as a house, the centipede catches its prey by waiting silently on a wall or ceiling until it senses approaching prey.
  • The centipede has a bite with a mild poison that subdues or kills its prey before eating it--this poison should not be considered a danger to a large mammal like a human or cat or dog.
  • Living Space

  • Though you may see a centipede near a drain or other pipe, they do not inhabit pipes.  They cannot swim (as I found out several times in my shower).
  • Most of the time, they probably inhabit the inside of the walls in a dwelling.
  • Scutigera-Coleoptrata is one of the only centipede species to spend an entire lifetime indoors, being born, spending most of its life, and reproducing included.
  • Why Scutigera-Coleoptrata is a remarkable creature

  • It has a lifespan of several years and an average maximum length of 1.5 inches.
  • The centipede is able to shed any reasonable number of its legs if attacked, and continue to survive without them. This is even true of centipedes that become caught in sticky traps (see below).
  • Controlling Scutigera-Coleoptrata

    If you are reading this page because you'd like to get rid of the centipedes in your home, please take heed of the following warning: you will not be rid of scutigera-coleoptrata.  They do not disappear by any human means that I know of. But I contend that for some of the reasons outlined above, maybe that's a good thing. I may have had scutigera in several apartments, but I never had cockroaches. So - before you go crazy hiring exterminators, spend a week, a month, a year, trying to live with them. They aren't a sign of a dirty apartment, they don't eat your food, and they won't harm your kids.

    If you do go the exterminator route, a household insect pest control company will most likely either put down a residual spray or sticky traps or both.

    If you would like to be rid of them, and don't want to hire outside help, here are some suggestions I've gathered over the years.

    Thanks to Darryl for sending me the below photos:
    I hope you found something of value on this site. To find more (non-editorial) information about house centipedes, check out some of google's search results.  And if you're planning on moving to a relatively secluded place in the middle of a big city, watch out for apartments on the 1st floor.

    They'll be watching you too.

    Please, email me your stories or comments or questions about scutigera-coleoptrata. I love knowing there are other people suffering out there with me.

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