© Stuart M Bennett 2000
Scutigera coleoptrata

Lithobius forficatus and some of it's garden-dwelling relatives sometimes take up residence in the toolshed or greenhouse and they come into the house from time to time, but none of them can can lay claim to being a household animal. The only centipede that can do so, in the British Isles, is the remarkable Scutigera coleoptrarta. But even this species only just makes it, for it is native to southern Europe and , although well established in the Channel Islands, it occurs only spasmodically in Britain. It probably came in with the tomatoes and other produce from time to time. The animal has 15 pairs of legs, but these are much longer and more slender than those of the lithobiids, especially at the tips. The last pair of legs are so long and slender that they look like antennae and, were it not for the prominent eyes, it would be very difficult to distinguish which end was which at first sight. Scutigera is a very fast runner and, although the stout and rounded body has 15 trunk segments, there are only seven tergites or plates on the upper body surface. This arrangement gives the body the necessary rigidity for its high speed running. The animal has very good eyesight and this together with it's speed make a very efficient hunter. It frequents the walls of houses and sheds, where it darts after flies, crickets, and other insects with amazzzzzzzzing speed. It is an extremely difficult animal to catch. Unlike other centipedes in the United Kingdom, it is able to reproduce within the house. It occurs both indoors and outdoors in the warmer regions of the country, but only indoors in the colder regions. It runs rapidly, holding its body well elevated by means of its conspicuously long legs, then suddenly stops, remains motionless, and with equal agility runs again to a place of concealment (Back, 1939). There are only a few records of this species wounding man, resulting in pain no more severe than that of a bee sting (Curran, 1946b).

Description. The house centipede has a very strange appearance. It is 2.5 to 4 cm long, with very long, slender antennae, and with 15 pairs of legs, also very long. In the female, the last pair of legs is more than twice the length of the body. The grayish-yellow body has 3 longitudinal dorsal stripes, and the legs are banded with white (Back, 1939). This species is in an order (Scutigeromorpha) in which all species have 15 pairs of long legs and long antennae, and are the only centipedes with compound eyes, the others having clusters of ocelli. They can readily detach their legs if they are grasped by an enemy.

Life Cycle. When the larvae hatch from the egg, they have 4 pairs of legs. There are then 5 more larval stages, with 5, 7, 9, 11, and 13 pairs of legs, respectively. Thereafter, there are 4 adolescent stages, each witli 15 pairs of legs (Cloudsley-Thompson, 1968).

Treatment is that for other insects, barrier spraying will reduce levels, if indeed there are a lot about, conversely, why kill them, they control other insect pests the same as spiders do..!

Picture courtesy of Nebraska University


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