This story was originally published in July 2018.
What is fuzzy, striped, has 30 legs and is likely living quietly in basements around Maine?
No, this is not a set-up riddle for the next Stephen King novel or upcoming horror film.
It’s very real and, according to one of Maine’s top insect experts, nothing of which to be afraid.
Scutigera coleoptrata — the house centipede — is one of the more beneficial bugs-in-residence for a homeowner, according to Clay Kirby, insect diagnostician with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.
It’s a bug-eat-bug world
“They are a predator of other insects,” Kirby said. “So if you have pest bugs in the house, the centipedes will focus on those bugs [and] that is why some people will take the extra effort to capture them and gently throw them outside if they don’t want them around rather than smashing or spraying them.”
Recognized by it’s segmented body, stripes and those 15-pairs of legs, the house centipede is happiest on its own, Kirby said, and prefers dark, moist areas.
“They like cover,” he said. “Basements are the number one place you will find them, but they also like any nooks or crannies that are cool and high in humidity.”
Left to their own devices, a house centipede is a somewhat solitary arthropod that prefers to be a silent guest and not interact directly with the human occupants of a dwelling.
They don’t attack people, they don’t chew on woodwork or paper and are generally good tenants, Kirby said.
“These guys are really good because they will eat a number of pests,” Kirby said. “The only downside is if you do see a large number of [house centipedes] it means there is a food source attracting them in numbers and that could indicate you have a larger insect problem you need to address.”
A good tenant
Kirby would like for people to cut the house centipede some slack.
“Some people’s tolerance for insects in their homes is lower than others and that is their prerogative,” he said. “What we don’t want is people unknowingly killing a bug that is beneficial.”
Kirby said there are certain members of the insect world — like Scutigera coleoptrata — that if people know how much good they do, they might adopt a live-and-let-live philosophy.
“For these people, if they knew the benefits of house centipedes, they would think twice about smashing it with a fly swatter,” Kirby said. “It’s really worth getting the word out on these insects.”
Hatching out in the spring — which is why people start seeing them in the summer — House Centipedes eat ants, silverfish, beetle larvae, spiders and roaches.
Even Kirby has to admit the house centipede won’t win any beauty pageants.
“What really impresses people about them is their appearance with all those legs and longish body,” he said. “That and when you see them they can give you a start because they run extremely fast.”
In fact, house centipedes can move 16-inches per second.
“That really adds to the startle impact,” Kirby said.
How to evict them
For those who don’t want the centipede scuttling around their basements or corners, Kirby sid there are ways to keep them at bay.
“It’s a multi-pronged approach,” he said. “The first thing is to eliminate their food source.”
That can be done, he said with a targeted approach by a certified pest management professional.
Homeowners can also create a non-welcoming environment by reducing the hiding places centipedes would use.
“They love clutter,” Kirby said.
Since the centipedes prefer humidity, Kirby suggests using a dehumidifier and finally, taking a long term approach by conducting a close inspection of a dwelling foundation inside and out to identify and seal up any cracks or crevices the centipedes — or other insects — are using to get in.
But given their shy, non-threatening nature and predation on other pests, Kirby hopes more Mainers will become fans of the house centipede.
“If you do see one and it sees you it will run fast in the opposite direction,” he said. “And they really are a very striking organism.”