October 12, 2009

Alien Encounter

I was in the bathroom, home, alone and I see this thing scuttling across the linoleum. With legs and all about two inches long. I was horrified. Like hand-wringing horrified.

I’m not usually anti-insect (with the exception of cockroaches) but I had never seen one of these and my first response was to squish it. Which didn’t work. It evaded my irresolute attack and then climbed up the side of the bathtub and slithered out from under my second attempt to smash it with a shampoo bottle. And then it slipped into the bathtub and met its demise. The sides were too slick and it couldn’t get out and that’s when I swooped in with the tile cleaner and sprayed it until it died. Which took ages and a lot of tile cleaner. I kept spraying and its legs kept moving fast, fast, fast and then slower, slower, slow until finally, thankfully, nothing. I scooped it up with a spatula and put it in a jar.

Here’s the deal (courtesy of New World Encyclopedia): The house centipede (Scutigera coleoptrata) of Europe and North America is a fast-moving carnivore that is common in dwellings.

Most house centipedes live outside, primarily under large rocks, piles of wood, and especially in compost piles. They prefer cool, damp places. Within the home, these centipedes are found in almost any part of the house; most commonly, they are encountered in basements, bathrooms, and laundry rooms, 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. Unlike its shorter-legged but much larger tropical cousins, the house centipede can live its entire life inside a building.

House centipedes feed on spiders, bedbugs, termites, cockroaches, silverfish, and other household pests. They kill their prey by injecting venom through their fangs. The house centipede is capable of biting a human, but this seldom occurs.

Because they eat household pests, house centipedes are considered among the most beneficial creatures that inhabit human dwellings, but because of their alarming appearance, frightening speed, and painful bite, few homeowners are willing to share a home with them. They do not cause damage to food or furniture.

So there you go. If anyone would like to see my specimen, I still have it in an old jam jar with a tightly shut lid. We suspect the neighbor. We never had house centipedes before the neighbor showed up.

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