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.
Why Scutigera-Coleoptrata is a remarkable creature
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.
- Residual sprays will help decrease appearance of the creatures for a short time. For the most part, these sprays are not dangerous to inhale or to walk on, so you can certainly be home when the spray is applied. If you touch it, however, you should wash your hands immediately.
- Sticky traps (in my experience) are useless. In my experience, sticky traps may pick up one or two centipedes in a month, while the rampant invasion on our walls continues unabated. Not a good way to cut down their numbers, and then even when your trap does collect a few, you're left with a disgusting cardboard trangle full of dead scutigerae and their legs.
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.
- The recommendation I have heard most often is to place a dehumidifier in the rooms you'd like to keep bug-free. They are more comfortable in a humid environment, which is why you see them more often (on the East coast, anyway) during summer.
- For on-sight control, the best product I have found is Raid for garden insects. It comes in a green aerosol can, but make sure you check the label for centipedes. If it is designed for cockroaches it will be much less effective. It has never stained my wall or carpet, so I wouldn't worry about that. The Raid spray technique I developed is the following:
- Spot the centipede
- Grab the can of Raid and a paper towel or tissue
- Run back as fast as you can (the scutigera-coleoptrata has the mildly psychic ability to sense when you are going to get something to kill it, including a paper towel or tissue, and go hide before you return)
- Spray the centipede from about 1 foot away
- Grab it with your paper towel and throw it away
- If the animal is on the ceiling, be careful. The spray will often dislodge the beast from its perch and it may fall to the ground before you can chase it down.
- Wash your hands
- Catch beast alive
- Keep in container to allow it to warn its friends not to mess with you
|Thanks to Darryl for sending me the below photos:|
Please, email me your stories
comments or questions about scutigera-coleoptrata. I love knowing
there are other people suffering out there with me.