Scutigera coleoptrata is a small, typically yellowish-grey centipede with up to 15 pairs of long legs. Originating in the Mediterranean region, the species has spread to other parts of the world, where it can live in human homes, thus gaining the name house centipede. It is an insectivore; it kills and eats other arthropods, such as insects and arachnids.
In 1758, Carl Linnaeus described the species in the tenth edition of his Systema Naturae, giving the name Scolopendra coleoptrata, writing that it has a "coleopterated thorax" (similar to a coleopter). In 1801, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck separated scutigera from scolopendra, calling this species Scutigera coleoptrata. The word scutigera comes from "to bear" (gerere) and "shield" (scutum), because of the shape of the plates in the back of the chilopod.
The body of an adult Scutigera coleoptrata is typically 25 to 35 mm (0.98 to 1.38 in) in length, although larger specimens are sometimes encountered. Up to 15 pairs of long legs are attached to the rigid body. Together with the antennae they give the centipede an appearance of being 75 to 100 mm (3 to 4 in) in length. The delicate legs enable it to reach surprising speeds of up to 0.4 meters per second (1.3 ft/s) running across floors, up walls and along ceilings. Its body is yellowish-grey and has three dark dorsal stripes running down its length; the legs also have dark stripes. S. coleoptrata has developed automimicry in that its tail-like hind legs present the appearance of antennae. When the centipede is at rest, it is not easy to tell its cranial end from its caudal end.
Unlike most other centipedes, house centipedes and their close relatives have well-developed faceted eyes.
Reproduction and development
House centipedes lay their eggs in spring. In a laboratory observation of 24 house centipedes, an average of 63 and a maximum of 151 eggs were laid. As with many other arthropods, the larvae look like miniature versions of the adult, albeit with fewer legs. Young centipedes have four pairs of legs when they are hatched. They gain a new pair with the first molting, and two pairs with each of their five subsequent moltings. Adults with 15 pairs of legs retain that number through three more molting stages (sequence 4-5-7-9-11-13-15-15-15-15 pairs).
House centipedes live anywhere from three to seven years, depending on the environment. They can start breeding in their third year. To begin mating, the male and female circle around each other. They initiate contact with their antennae. The male deposits his sperm on the ground and the female then uses it to fertilize her eggs.
Behavior and ecology
House centipedes feed on spiders, bed bugs, termites, cockroaches, silverfish, ants, and other household arthropods. They administer venom through forcipules. These are not part of their mandibles, so strictly speaking they sting rather than bite. They are mostly nocturnal hunters. Despite their developed eyes, they seem to rely mostly on their antennae when hunting. Their antennae are sensitive to both smells and tactile information. They use both their mandibles and their legs for holding prey. This way they can deal with several small insects at the same time. To capture prey they either jump onto it or use their legs in a technique described as "lassoing". Using their legs to beat prey has also been described. Like other centipedes they can stridulate.
In a feeding study, S. coleoptrata showed the ability to distinguish between possible prey, avoiding dangerous insects. They also adapted their feeding pattern to the type of hazard the prey might pose to them. For wasps, they retreat after applying the venom to give it time to take effect. When the centipede is in danger of becoming prey itself, it can detach any legs that have become trapped. House centipedes have been observed to groom their legs by curling around and grooming them with their forcipules.
It may often be seen darting across floors with very great speed, occasionally stopping suddenly and remaining absolutely motionless, presently to resume its rapid movements, often darting directly at inmates of the house, particularly women, evidently with a desire to conceal itself beneath their dresses, and thus creating much consternation.
Outdoors, house centipedes prefer to live in cool, damp places. Centipede respiratory systems do not provide any mechanism for shutting the spiracles, and that is why they need an environment that protects them from dehydration and excessive cold. Most live outside, primarily under large rocks, piles of wood or leaves, in barkdust and especially in compost piles. They often emerge from hiding during the watering of gardens or flowerbeds. These centipedes can be found in almost any part of the house; although they are usually encountered in dark or dimly lit areas such as basements and garages. Inside the home, they can be found in bathrooms and lavatories, which tend to be humid, but they can also be found in drier places like offices, bedrooms and dining rooms. They are usually seen crawling along the ground or floor, but they are capable of climbing walls. The greatest likelihood of encountering them is in spring, when they emerge due to warmer weather and in autumn/fall, when the cooling weather forces them to seek shelter in human habitats.
S. coleoptrata is indigenous to the Mediterranean region, but it has spread through much of Europe, Asia, North America and South America. It is thought to have first been introduced to the Americas in Mexico and Guatemala and now it reaches north into Canada and south to Argentina.
In the United States, it spread north from the southern states, reaching Pennsylvania in 1849, New York in 1885, and Massachusetts and Connecticut in about 1890. In 2009, its distribution extended from Virginia in the east to the coast of California in the west. It is also found in the Pacific Northwest, where it appears to be somewhat less common than in other areas of the country.
In South Africa, they have been sighted in the Western Cape, in and around Cape Town (sightings have been reported in Pinelands; Vredehoek, Mowbray, Edgemead, Green Point, Zonnebloem, Woodstock; Stellenbosch, Simon's Town, Rooi-Els, Pringle Bay and Gordon's Bay) and also in KwaZulu-Natal, in the city of Pietermaritzburg. They are also found around the Garden Route, including Oudtshoorn, Mossel Bay, George and Knysna, and in Bloemfontein in the Free State.
They have been found in eastern and southern Australia, from Perth to Adelaide, South Australia, to Sydney, New South Wales and in Tasmania. Other countries they have been found in include New Zealand, Japanand South Korea.
The faceted eyes of S. coleoptrata are sensitive to daylight and very sensitive to ultraviolet light. They were shown to be able to visually distinguish between different mutations of Drosophila melanogaster. How this ability fits with its nocturnal lifestyle and underground natural habitat is still under study. They do not instantly change direction when light is suddenly shone at them, but will retreat to a darker hiding spot.
Some of the plates covering the body segments fused and became smaller during the evolution to the current state of S. coleoptrata. The resulting mismatch between body segments and dorsal plates (tergites) is the cause for this centipede's rigid body.
|Segments||1||2||3, 4||5, 6||7, 8, 9||10, 11||12, 13||14, 15||16||17||18|
|Leg pairs||Forcipules||1||2, 3||4, 5||6, 7, 8||9, 10||11, 12||13, 14||15 (antenna-like snare legs)||(gonopod)||(anus)|
Interaction with humans
Unlike its shorter-legged but much larger tropical cousins, S. coleoptrata can live its entire life inside a building, usually the ground levels of homes. Though they often startle their unwitting housemates with their appearance and surprising speed, they are not generally considered dangerous to humans. House centipedes typically flee when disturbed and bites are uncommon unless provoked. Its jaws have difficulty penetrating human skin, and its bite and venom rarely produce more than temporary, localized pain no worse than a bee sting.
Techniques for eliminating centipedes from homes include drying up the areas where they thrive, eliminating large indoor insect populations, and sealing cracks in the walls. An alternative is to let them live, allowing them to control pests, e.g., roaches, flies, moths, bed bugs, silverfish, earwigs, etc.
- Steve Jacobs (2009). House Centipede (PDF). Pennsylvania State University.
- Ricks, Winston. "Scutigera Coleoptrata". Animal Diversity. Regents of the University of Michigan. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
- Linné, Carl von; Salvius, Lars (1758). Caroli Linnaei...Systema naturae per regna tria naturae :secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. v.1. Holmiae: Impensis Direct. Laurentii Salvii.
- Lamarck, Jean-Baptiste (1801). Systême des animaux sans vertèbres; ou, Tableau général des classes, des classes, des orres et des genres de ces animaux. Paris: L'Auteur.
- "Scutigera - Wiktionary". en.wiktionary.org. Retrieved 2020-09-23.
- Steve Jacobs (March 13, 2017). "House Centipedes". Extension. Pennsylvania State University. Retrieved 2021-06-08.
- "Centipedes: Chilopoda – House Centipede (Scutigera coleoptrata): Species Accounts". 2004.
- Walter Ebeling (1978). "Chapter 9, Part 1: Spiders and Ants". Urban Entomology. University of California. pp. 323–353. ISBN 978-0-931876-19-6.
- Lewis (2007), pp. 185–186.
- Faúndez, Eduardo I. (2011). "On the presence of Scutigera coleoptrata (Linnaeus, 1758) (Chilopoda: Scutigeromorpha: Scutigeridae) in the Metropolitan Region, Chile" (PDF). Boletín de la Sociedad Entomológica Aragonesa. 49: 336.
- Weekes, John (December 4, 2011). "Centipedes spawn fear and loathing in suburbs". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved November 23, 2015.
- Victor Benno Meyer-Rochow, Carsten H. G. Müller & Magnus Lindström (2006). "Spectral sensitivity of the eye of Scutigera coleoptrata (Linnaeus, 1758) (Chilopoda: Scutigeromorpha: Scutigeridae)". Applied Entomology and Zoology. 41 (1): 117–122. doi:10.1303/aez.2006.117.
- Lewis (2007), p. 120.
- Richard Fox (June 28, 2006). "Scutigera coleoptrata". Lander University. Archived from the original on September 1, 2006. Retrieved April 1, 2010.
- Enrico Negrisolo, Alessandro Minelli & Giorgio Valle (2004). "The mitochondrial genome of the house centipede Scutigera and the monophyly versus paraphyly of myriapods". Molecular Biology and Evolution. 21 (4): 770–780. doi:10.1093/molbev/msh078. PMID 14963096.
- Eric R. Eaton (2007). Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America. HMCo Field Guides. p. 26. ISBN 978-0-618-15310-7. Retrieved July 3, 2009.
- Jeffrey K. Barnes (May 22, 2003). "House centipede". Arthropod Museum. University of Arkansas. Archived from the original on 2017-06-01.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Scutigera coleoptrata.|