Image Caption: House Centipede, Scutigera coleoptrata. Credit: Bruce Marlin/Wikipedia (CC BY 3.0)
Scutigera coleoptrata is one of many species of house centipedes. This species is native to the Mediterranean, but it is capable of moving to other region of the world including most of Europe, South America, North America, and Asia. It is thought to have first ventured from its native range into Mexico and Guatemala, and its range has now stretched into Argentina in the south and Canada in the north. It prefers outdoor habitats within moist, cool areas and resides under rocks, woodpiles, and compost piles. This species will not typically occur in cold or arid areas, because it does not have the ability to prevent dehydration or freezing. When living in homes, this species prefers humid areas of bathrooms, basements, and other rooms in a home. However, it can be found in almost any area of the home in the early spring and late fall seasons.
S. coleoptrata can reach an average body length between one and two inches and has up to fifteen pairs of legs. These legs are long and delicate and allow the centipede to move at speeds of up to 1.3 feet per second. It is yellowish grey in color, with three stripes running down the length of the back that are darker in color. Darker stripes also appear near the base of each leg. This species, as well as all house centipedes, has a greater ability to see than other types of centipedes. When not moving, it is difficult to distinguish between its front and back sides.
As is typical to house centipedes, S. coleoptrata lays its eggs in the spring season. When breeding, males and females will circle around each other and greet each other with their antennae. Males will deposit their sperm on the ground, after which females will fertilize their eggs with it. In one study conducted on 24 house centipedes, an average of 63 eggs were laid, with one individual laid 151 eggs. Juveniles, although similar in appearance to adults, only have four sets of legs. The remaining sets of legs grow in after a series of six moltings. Sexual maturity is reached at three years of age and members of this species can live to be three to seven years old.
S. coleoptrata consumes termites, spiders, bed bugs, ants, silverfish, cockroaches, and other common arthropods found in houses. It will use its modified legs to release venom into its prey. Instead of using its eyesight, it will locate its prey by using its antennae, which can detect both touch and smell. It is often thought that it uses its mandibles to bite and poison its prey, but these are actually used along with its front legs to hold its prey down. This species has been witnessed “beating” its prey and holding down multiple prey items at one time. One study showed that it is able to distinguish between dangerous and harmless insects. The same study also showed that certain species, like wasps, are still consumed, but in a specific manner. The centipede will inject the wasp with venom and then move away from its stinger until the wasp is still. If the centipede is in danger of becoming prey, it will detach any legs that may be stuck and retreat.
Although S. coleoptrata is primarily nocturnal, its eyes react to light during the day and it is able to distinguish between different types of Drosophila melanogaster. When a light is shone directly in its eyes, it will not turn away but retreat into a darker space. It is not yet known how this eyesight affects its nocturnal movements.
S. coleoptrata is able to live its entire life inside of a dwelling, unlike related species found in tropical regions. It is typically found on the ground level of houses, and does not provide any danger to humans, because the forcipules are not strong enough to pierce through human skin. Due to this, reports of stings are highly uncommon. However, stings do sometimes occur, producing a reaction similar to that of a bee sting with minor irritation, swelling, and redness. If a house owner wishes to get rid of any centipedes, it is best to dry out the area where the centipedes are found, eliminate its food sources, seal any openings in walls, or contact an exterminator.