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What's bugging you? July 25, 2018

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House centipede

It is time for me to revert back to my roots and talk about interesting arthropods. Today I will cover the common scutigera, a unique looking house centipede. I never had seen this beastie until I moved to Colorado and I discovered it one day in my house. Since then this centipede has invaded my house on several occasions but I have never observed it outdoors.

They are very fast moving centipedes. Because of their secretive nature, scary appearance and darting motions, homeowners typically fear the house centipede.

Centipedes are in their own class, chilopoda, and not insects at all. To be an insect this creature would need to have three body parts and six pairs of jointed legs. But centipedes have two legs per body segment, not necessarily 100 legs, but more than six.

My particular centipede is in a genus that has many simple "eyes" grouped in a cluster, resembling a typical insect true compound eye. This house centipede is thought to be native to the Mediterranean. Today it can be found throughout Europe, Asia, and North America.

They can apparently survive in many habitats, as long as there is a place to hide, sufficient humidity, and enough food. They are often found in dark, humid areas such as crevices under rocks and in caves. In residences they're more commonly found in basements, crawlspaces, and bathrooms. My encounters usually take place during periods of colder weather.

These house centipedes are generally brown in color. Like all arthropods, they have an exoskeleton made of chitin. Their dorsal-ventrally flattened body is divided into fifteen segments with one pair of legs per segment. The first pair of legs is modified into fangs used for capturing prey and for protection. There are three dorsal longitudinal stripes, and their legs are banded. They have very well developed antennae. Most range from one half inch to just over two inches in length.

Immature scutigera hatch from the egg and appear very similar to the adults, although they have only four pairs of legs. As they develop they pass through five larval instars, with each molt gaining more segments and leg pairs. After their fifth molt, they have all fifteen pairs of legs and are mature. They are also quite delicate and easily injured. So handle with care.

Female house centipedes lay their eggs in the soil and cover them up with a sticky substance. Courtship and reproduction occur during the warmer months of the year. For about two weeks after the baby centipedes have hatched, the mother and her offspring live in the same place, she providing some degree of protection for her young.

Scutigera spend the winter in isolated protected habitats and become active in the spring. They retreat to underneath rocks and logs during the day, becoming active at night. They use their antennae to sense the environment around them. Scutigera are carnivorous, eating worms, snails, cockroaches, silverfish, fly larvae, small spiders, and other arthropods. They sense prey by using their antennae, which have scent and touch receptors on them. House centipedes then use their fangs to hold the prey while injecting poison with the modified front legs. So they are good guys to us since they eat things we don't especially like. And their small size precludes them being any threat to us.

If house centipedes are seen frequently in your house, this may indicate that some prey arthropod is in abundance, and may signify a greater problem than just the presence of these scary centipedes.

Jim Leser retired to Cedaredge in 2007 after a career with Texas A&M University Extension in entomology. He is a member of the Cedaredge Tree Board and a Colorado Master Gardener.

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Jim Leser, What's Bugging You
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