House Centipede - Friend or Foe?

Imagine, you have just taken a shower. You grab a towel and begin drying your face. Suddenly you notice this centipede- which has hitched a ride on the towel- is crawling toward your face. What do you do? Probably scream like a banshee. (That's what I would do- followed by curling up in a fetal position and reciting the Dr. Seuss classic Green Eggs and Ham.) Or you could just calmly say hello to your little friend- the House Centipede, or Scutigera coleoptrata, which is how the scientists refer to them.

Why are these hideously ugly creatures known as House Centipedes? Is it because:
  1. When they walk across your face they look as big as a house?
  2. You will want to sell your house if it becomes infested with these nocturnal creatures?
  3. They make great house pets?
  4. They typically live in houses; more specifically- basements, bathrooms, and kitchens?

The correct answer is 4, although, technically for most people, answers #1 and #2 may be more correct. Consider the following experiences of some of the contributors to the wonderful insect website

These things are demons sent from hell in which we nicknamed *&#&$* huge bugs'. These things CREEP ME OUT! I want to know how to kill these big boys. My Son actually pooped himself when he saw one for the first time scurring across the cathedrial ceiling. How do you get rid of them?!? by omgBIGbugs

I really hate these freaky things. My fear of them became worst when I one day got out of my shower. Like any other time I grabbed a towel and dried my face first. only my suprise there was a (as I call them) "creepy crawly" on the towel and he/she ended up on my face next to my mouth!!!!!!! I screamed so loud my husband came flying in the bathroom just as I began to hit myself in the face trying to get it of. At first he had no clue what was going on and after I took off running out of the room I finally got the chance to tell him and he got a good laugh out of it. Believe me now when I get out of the shower I shake the towel. Anti-creepy crawlies. by creapy crawly

About an hour ago I got a glass of water for myself. I took it out of the cabinet in my dark kitchen and filled it with water from the sink. As I walked back to my bedroom (where the only light in my place was on) I took two normal drinks from my water. I then sat my water down on my desk to check something online quickly before bed. As the webpage was loading I picked up my glass for a third drink. When I did this something moving in my water caught my eye. When I looked I saw a reddish one of THESE THINGS swimming for its life in my water. This is unnerving to me because it had most likely been swimming like that as I drank twice from the glass and may have even brushed up against my lips. If things went a tad worse it may have crawled up my face or gotten into my mouth. Regardless, I will be storing my glasses in the cabinet upsidown from now on and will be on the lookout for these scary little guys.... by searchforwisdom

After reading the above comments- I wouldn't blame you if you decided that you wouldn't want this "bug" in your home. However, if you do have these legged fiends in your house- all is not lost. The House Centipede is a nocturnal predator that eats other insects and spiders- such as house flies and cockroaches- which are MUCH worse to humans. (Cockroaches and house flies are known disease carriers. House Centipedes are not.) Think of House Centipedes as free loading pest exterminators- give them room and board and they'll take care of your roaches. Not a bad deal. Especially if you don't mind if they run across your face every now and then while you are sleeping. Notice in the following article from a 1906 encyclopedia it mentions that the House Centipede is "feared by ignorant persons". I guess encyclopedia writers weren't politically correct in 1906. :)

The New International Encyclopaedia edited by Daniel Coit Gilman, Harry Thurston Peck, Frank Moore Colby

I should also mention to you- and this may sway your decision on whether to squash or not to squash- like other centipedes, the House Centipede is poisonous. But only mildly. And the bite only hurts for a few minutes- unless you are allergic to the centipede's venom- in which case you could have a severe allergic reaction that requires immediate medical attention. So, what will it be? Squash or not to squash. Personally, I'm with Archy the cockroach (from Don Marquis' great book Archy and Mehitabel). Archy had the following to say, from the chapter The Hen and the Oriole.

well boss did it
ever strike you that a
hen regrets it just as
much when they wring her
neck as an oriole but
nobody has any
sympathy for a hen because
she is not beautiful
while every one gets
sentimental over the
oriole and says how
shocking to kill the
lovely thing this thought
comes to my mind
because of the earnest
endeavor of a
gentleman to squash me
yesterday afternoon when i
was riding up in the
elevator if i had been a
butterfly he would have
said how did that
beautiful thing happen to
find its way into
these grimy city streets do
not harm the splendid
creature but let it
fly back to its rural
haunts again beauty always
gets the best of
it be beautiful boss
a thing of beauty is a
joy forever
be handsome boss
and let who will be clever is
the sad advice
of your ugly little friend


Cindy said...

The general rule around here is if you can hear or feel it squishing under your shoe, you don't step on it. Large bugs may be escorted outside. Black widows and ants get sprayed.

steve said...

I say let it live. I am trying to create some kind of equilibrium with the insect world in our house. Now that the cool weather is upon us, the Japanese Ladybugs have found shelter in the house. The ants will eat the ladybugs. The spiders will eat the ants (or at least the ants will die in the cob webs). These House Centipedes will eat spiders. And the centipede will stand alone...

blueblue said...

Nice post!

I put up some great piccies today of a flowerspider that captured a bee

One of those OMG photo opportunities.

Carolyn Hietala said...

Except for mosquitos... I scoop it up and let it fend for itself outside ;0)
I checked out most all of your photos just now... a very talented eye! Good job ;0)

Nature Nut /JJ Loch said...

Daniel, great blog!!!

I have found that my four cats take care of any insects in the house. :D I hate creepy crawling bugs too, especially hopping spiders.

I'll also post your link on my blog. Thanks for the add.


Lynda Lehmann said...

I found this post to be both educational and entertaining and, may I say, a wee bit terrifying!

The day I sip a centipede I'll be having a heart attack!

Daniel Spurgeon said...

Hi Lynda, yes, if I were to "sip" one of these little guys- I think that my heart would probably skip a beat or two as well. :)

...Kat said...

live and let live


The Giraffe Head Tree said...

Outside? Friend.
Inside? Foe

That's my vote.

Eve said...

I'm at a fork in the squash or not to squash...I'm thinking of moving back to NY!!!! Ha Ha! I'm so glad I don't have to be surprised Daniel...well, I've got a few more creepy crawlies to read about yet.
This is a great and funny post!

Anonymous said...

If I see one of those !$*%!&$, it is dead unless it outruns me. Then I look for him for the next few days hoping he grows a pair and dares show himself again. Not one of these will survive in my house with me knowing about it. They are the most disgusting bug that you can find in your house. We call them Matrix bugs cuz they look like the bug they put in Neo's belly button in the Matrix.

Callico said...

I must say that I am tied when I comes to which I would prefer in my house, a house centipede or a cockroach. Even after I found a house centipede running out of my shirt on my way to the shower. I think the best decision is to just get a cat.

Minxy said...

My cat bats at them frantically and then backs off and wails. Even he is terrified of these insects. I will happily pick up a spider and let it outside. Even a cockroach I will simply shoo away. But never will I ever approach a house centipede if I can help it. I am too afraid to kill them, also. I just sort of hide until it is gone.

Ed said...

They should be spared. Feels good to not have to spend extra dollars pesticides killing roaches and other similarly nastier and more expensive critters. Hell, we used suffer from ants when we first got a certain townhouse. The ants mysteriously disappeared after I saw these centipedes. They probably got in by us leaving the back sliding door open a couple times for our (now deceased) cat.

Also, centipedes are NOT insects as they have more than six legs and a different body.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, that's another reason why they are totally creepy. They're not considered an insect. So they're in a creature class of their own. I'm totally creeped out by them. They come out of nowhere. I've had Orkin out to spray at my house 7 times in 4 months. These effers will NOT die!!

Anonymous said...

These guys were regular residents in our abode for two years. Then we had Orkin do a perimeter spray for autumn. What a mistake! The centipedes disappeared... And the roaches arrived. We've been battling the roaches for months. Now the centipedes are returning and I am singing hallelujah!

Steven Doyle said...

In my youth I considered being an entomologist. Nothing bothered me about our arthropodal friends until I hit a wall with the centipede. Did you know their venom-injecting fangs evolved from their front pair of legs? Nothing is too gross for Mother Nature.

Centipedes cause me to experience a visceral repulsion. I knew entomology was not for me. It wouldn't be fair for me to delight in the leaf-mimicry of Phylliidae or study the organization of termites, only to be squicked out like a little girl whenever one of those 30-legged monstrosities came into view. (Although they're called centipedes, they typically have 15 pairs of hideous, scurrying legs.)

I'm ashamed of my irrational phobia, but there it is.

(As noted, centipedes are not insects; they're in the class Chiropoda.)

Anonymous said...

I like them. They eat ants and ants steal our jellybeans so hose centepedes are misunderstood helpers, and are welcome in my house anytime.

Nancy F McCune said...

I was similarly creeped out and killing them until it occured to me that I have a team of free organic pest control agents working 24/7 killing bugs I can't even see that may be eating my clothes, infesting my pantry, eating my papers, and coming up my drains! Bottom line if you have house centipedes it is a sign that you have these other bugs or they would move on to another house with a better insect food supply. I wish they sold house centipedes at the nursery because I would turn a bunch of them loose to speed up the process.