House centipede

House centipede

The House centipede, Scutigera coleoptrata, is a yellowish grey centipede with 15 pairs of legs. Originally endemic to the Mediterranean region, the species has spread to other parts of the world, where it usually lives in human homes. It is an insectivore; it kills and eats insects.

Natural history

The house centipede is 25–50 mm (one to two inches) long and has an average of 15 pairs of very long, delicate legs and a rigid body, which enables it to run with surprising speed – up to 406 mm (16 inches) per second – up walls and along ceilings and floors. Its body is yellowish grey and has three dark-colored dorsal stripes running down its length; the legs also have dark stripes. Unlike most other centipedes, house centipedes and their close relatives have well-developed, faceted eyes.

House centipedes feed on spiders, bedbugs, termites, cockroaches, silverfish, ants and other household arthropods. They kill their prey by injecting venom through their fangs.

House centipedes lay their eggs in the spring. In a laboratory experiment of 24 house centipedes, an average of 63 and a maximum of 151 eggs were laid.

Young centipedes have four pairs of legs when they are hatched. They gain a new pair with the first molting, and two pairs with every subsequent molting. They live anywhere from three to seven years, depending on the environment.

Outdoors, house centipedes prefer to live in cool, damp places. Most live outside, primarily under large rocks, piles of wood and especially in compost piles. Within the home, these centipedes are found in almost any part of the house; most commonly, they are encountered in basements, bathrooms and lavatories, where there is a lot more water, but they can also be found in dry places like offices, bedrooms and dining rooms. The greatest likelihood of encountering them is in spring, when they come out because the weather gets warmer, and in fall, when the cooling weather forces them to find shelter in human habitats.

S. coleoptrata is indigenous to the Mediterranean region, but it has spread through much of Europe, Asia, and North America. In the United States, it has spread from the southern states, Mexico and Guatemala. It reached Pennsylvania in 1849, New York in 1885, and Massachusetts about 1890, and it now extends westward to the California coast and reaches north into Canada (Lewis 1981). In South Africa, they have been found in Gordon's Bay near Cape Town and in Pietermaritzburg. In Japan, these creatures are referred to as gejigeji and enjoy a level of popularity. They can often be seen for sale in pet stores.

They have also been found in eastern and south-eastern Australia, from Sydney to Tasmania as well as in New Zealand. Due to their nature of living in cool dark places with long lifespans, they have become an incredibly invasive species. The largest recorded specimen is 6 1/2 inches.

Interaction with humans

Unlike its shorter-legged but much larger tropical cousins, the house centipede can live its entire life inside a building; usually the ground levels of homes. Because they eat household pests, house centipedes are considered among the most beneficial creatures that inhabit human dwellings. Benefits aside, because of their alarming appearance, frightening speed, and worries about their bite, few homeowners are willing to share a home with these creatures.

The bite of most house centipedes is incapable of penetrating human skin. Those that can give an effect no worse than a minor bee sting. The symptoms generally disappear within a few hours. However, the bite can cause health problems for those few who are allergic to the mild venom of its bite, which is similar to that of most normal centipedes. It is possible in some cases that a rash may develop and many minuscule bumps can form, an allergic reaction which might be comparable to a bee sting in terms of pain, or to a mosquito bite in terms of itchiness. The house centipede's venom is too weak to cause any serious harm to larger pets such as cats and dogs.

Techniques for eliminating centipedes from the home include drying up the areas where they thrive, eliminating large indoor insect populations, sealing cracks in the walls, and seeking the assistance of an exterminator.


  • Cloudsley-Thompson, J. L. 1968. Spiders, scorpions, centipedes and mites. Pergamon Press, Oxford. 278 pages.
  • Mitton, Jeff. "Legs for stinging, legs for snaring". Daily Camera. November 17, 2006.

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