August 2019

Leggy household visitor

Can you identify this very strange segmented creature that I found?

Answer

A house centipede. Photo by Kym Witty  This many-legged, long-legged animal is commonly referred to as a house centipede (in the order Scutigeromorpha). It gets its name from a common habit of turning up in dark corners of houses.  Outside the human environment, scutigeromorphs favour sheltered dark sites such as rock overhangs and hollow logs. They also inhabit caves, which are home to some particularly large species.

Most people are more familiar with centipedes in the order Scolopendromorpha (a group of mostly large species with relatively shorter legs). All centipedes belong to the larger group, ‘Class Chilopoda’.

Each segment of a centipede’s body has one pair of legs - 15 pairs altogether in the scutigeromorphs. The very long trailing last pair of legs possess sensory hairs. If you try to count all those legs in the photograph take note that two ‘legs’ have been lost (but that’s not so important when you still have 28 left!)

The fast-moving house centipedes capture small insects and spiders by pouncing on them before injecting them with venom from a pair of claws, called ‘forcipules’. Some scutigeromorphs use their long dexterous legs like ropes to ‘lasso’ and restrain their prey. They have faceted (compound) eyes, whereas the other types of centipede have a single-lens eye or no eyes at all.

Fortunately, scutigeromorphs are not regarded as dangerous to people, although it’s best to take care with them as individual reactions to any bite can vary.

You can read about the main differences between centipedes and another famously leggy group, the millipedes (Class Diplopoda) here

Centipedes, millipedes (the myriapods) together with animals such as insects, spiders and crustaceans (prawns, crabs etc.) belong to the much larger group known as the arthropods which all have a hard jointed exoskeleton. This gives them their overall structure and protects their soft internal body parts.

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