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Wednesday, 11 December 2013

The House Centipede: A Most Unique Roommate

House Centipede (Scutigera coleoptrata)

     According to some sources they grow up to 3 cm long, but they definitely grow bigger at our place. The first time there was a house centipede in the kitchen the first thing that came into my mind was that it looked like something from a sci-fi movie (think Star Trek TNG "The Entity").
     They have up to 15 sets of legs as full-grown adults and may live for up to seven years. The two front "legs" are actually venomous spikes used to paralyze its prey, and its legs stick out the side of each segment. They seem to be very high on the food chain, as the spiders and silverfish in our house slowly started disappearing and we saw more and more house centipedes.
     So, do you have to worry about being stung or bitten by a house centipede? The Ontario Nature Guide by Krista Kagume says, "Although Ontario house centipedes don't generally harm people, they can inflict a painful bite when handled." Avoiding being stung is pretty simple: don't play with it.
     Something else I didn't know until an encounter is that they play dead... or at least that's how it appears. Once my dog attacked a house centipede. She picked it up between her teeth and whipped it around a bit before dropping it onto the ground. The centipede lay there and didn't move. I tried to make it get up with a pencil in hopes of bringing it outside, but it didn't even flinch. Just after we both left the room, I peeked back in and saw the insect get up and run underneath a bookshelf (clever little trickster).

     Like lots of other kids, I used to look for spiders and insects in the house to name and play with and blow kisses to, but for some reason I became a total scaredy-cat around that house centipede. I believe in the theory that fear of insects is a learned fear, as we learn to be afraid of things that we don't know about, of things that are different from our version of normal.
     Here is a tip to anyone who has an irrational fear of any creature: learn its role in the ecosystem. Sometimes all it takes it to unshroud something from mystery for it to be not so scary anymore.

Kagume, K., Kershaw, L. J., & Bezener, A. (2008). Ontario Nature Guide. Edmonton: Lone Pine Pub..

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