A many-legged roommate: The house centipede!

Scutigera coleoptrata - Crédit photo : Insectarium de Montréal
A many-legged roommate: The house centipede!

It might not seem like an ideal roommate at first glance, but the house centipede’s habits cannot be faulted! Scutigera coleoptrata, to give it its full name, is a member of the myriapoda group.

This group includes centipedes (“100 legs”) and millipedes (“1,000 legs”), which people often mix up... but that’s another story! House centipedes often go unnoticed, but when discovered scuttling around our feet, it’s an experience that won’t soon be forgotten! They are discreet (but effective) predators that flee from light, which explains why we rarely see them. They are generally found in warm, damp places, and occasionally climbing up a wall or sitting in the bathtub.

Profile of the “roommate”

This discreet roommate is beige and brown in colour, with three dark lengthwise stripes. Although the length varies, house centipedes are generally about 3 cm long, but it is not unusual to see some as long as 5 cm.

However, their long legs create the impression of a much larger insect. To prevent their 30 legs from becoming tangled, they are shorter at the front and gradually get longer towards the back. As the last pair are much longer than the others, they may be mistaken for antennae. In females, these hind legs can be up to twice as long as their body! The house centipede has two composite eyes made of up to 600 “simple eyes,” or ocelli. It has a pair of claws (forcipules), which it uses to inject venom into its prey.

Un exterminateur peu coûteux

While your first instinct may be to try to evict them, think again: these arthropods feed on small insects (flies, silverfish, cockroaches, woodlice etc.) in your home. In other words, they do an effective extermination job for free! Like other creepy-crawlies, house centipedes often live inside walls, out of reach of brooms, vacuum cleaners and other cleaning equipment. Discreet, clean and always keen to get rid of pests in inaccessible places in your home—sounds like the ideal roommate!

Did you know?

  • The house centipede’s venom is not considered dangerous to humans.
  • The house centipede can achieve speeds that would make an Olympic sprinter envious (hence the common name “véloce” in French). With its body shape similar to the design of a Formula 1 car, the house centipede can move as fast as 40 cm/second.
  • The house centipede was introduced from Europe and can now be found in many countries—a cosmopolitan insect.
  • When disturbed, the house centipede can emit an unpleasant smell.
  • The house centipede is known to eat species in the same genus as its own, so it is also a cannibal!
  • The house centipede’s forcipules (claws) are modified legs; they are not attached to the head but rather the first body segment.

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2 Comment(s)
Mark Weatherley's picture
Mark Weatherley

Great summary. Thanks. Just collected my first example after 30 years in the same house. So very discreet. Probably not happy that we cleaned the air vents.

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