Physical characteristics: Adult house centipedes measure up to 1.2 inches (35 millimeters) in length. They are yellow or brown with three purplish or bluish bands along the length of the body. They have large compound eyes on each side of the head. The antennae are very long and threadlike with five hundred to six hundred segments. Adults have fifteen pairs of long slender legs that keep the body well above the ground when they are on the move. The last pair of legs are the longest with those of females twice as long as the body.
Geographic range: This species is native to southern Europe, North Africa, and the Near East.
They are widely distributed in North America and South Africa. Populations with limited distributions have been found in Britain, northern Europe, Australia, Argentina, Uruguay, tropical Africa, and Taiwan.
House centipedes eat insects that are considered to be household pests, such as flies and cockroaches. (Illustration by Barbara Duperron. Reproduced by permission.)
Habitat: House centipedes are found in a variety of habitats under wood, in trash, or inside caves. They are often found in homes, especially in places where there is moisture, such as tubs, basins, and basements.
Diet: They eat silverfish, flies, cockroaches, moths, spiders, and other house centipedes.
Behavior and reproduction: House centipedes are usually active day and night and run quickly when threatened. They can run at speeds up to 16 inches (400 millimeters) per second.
Males and females court one another by forming a circle and tapping each other with their antennae. The male eventually deposits a lemon-shaped sperm packet. He guides the female to it, and she removes the sperm from the packet. The eggs are 0.05 inches (1.25 millimeters) long. The female holds a single egg between her reproductive structures, covers it with dirt, and then places it in a crack in the soil. The breeding season lasts about two months. During this time she will lay about four eggs per day. Hatchlings start with four pairs of legs. With each molt the total number of legs increases to five, seven, nine, eleven, and thirteen pairs. There are five more molts after they have all 15 pairs of legs. Adults live nearly three years in captivity.
House centipedes and people: House centipedes eat insects that are considered to be household pests, such as flies and cockroaches. They are delicate animals, and it is unlikely that their fangs can puncture human skin.
Conservation status: This species is not considered endangered or threatened. ■
FOR MORE INFORMATION Books:
Lewis, J. G. E. The Biology of Centipedes. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1981.
Tavolacci, J., ed. Insects and Spiders of the World. Volume 3: Carrion Beetle-Earwig. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 2003.
Walls, J. G. The Guide to Owning Millipedes and Centipedes. Neptune City, NJ: T.F.H. Publications, 2000.
Shelley, R. M. "Centipedes and Millipedes with Emphasis on North American Fauna." The Kansas School Naturalist 45, no. 3 (1999).
The Centipede Order Scolopendropmorpha in North America. http://www.naturalsciences.org/research/inverts/centipedes/ (accessed on November 1, 2004).
"Chilopoda. Centipedes." Ecowatch. http://www.ento.csiro.au/Ecowatch/ Insects_Invertebrates/Chilopoda.htm (accessed on November 1, 2004).
Myriapoda. http://www.myriapoda.org (accessed on November 18, 2004).
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