Backyardsafari's Blog

Environmental Inspiration in Your Own Backyard

Backyard Creature Feature September 26, 2010

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It was the wee hours of the morning and I was perched in front of my desk typing away and catching up on some work. Yawning and sipping cold coffee, I was not the most alert when I saw a sudden movement out of the corner of my eye–a very large crawly insect was scurrying up the wall in front of me!  Who knows–maybe you have seen this before as well:

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I normally just call these “the crazy million leg bugs.” This time, however, after it scuttled away into the pile of books and folders under my desk (making my feet feel crawly for the rest of the night) I decided to finally get acquainted. After literally google searching “crazy million leg bug”–try it, it works!–I discovered that the real name for this creature is the house centipede, or Scutigera coleoptrata. At first I just wanted to know the name, but as I read on I discovered once again just how amazing the natural world is, and the many wonders hidden around us in unlikely places.

It turns out house centipedes are amazing!–even though they only have about 30 legs instead of a million. They often live in people’s  homes–sometimes for their entire lives. They are insectivores, and eat a lot of harmful pest insects that we usually want to get rid of. It can run 1.3 feet per second and has evolved so that its hind legs look like antennae–this way predators usually can’t tell the front of the centipede from the back. Their babies only have 4 legs when they hatch and grow more pairs every time they molt up until the 15. Not only that, but they can live up to 7 years, and have been shown to perform some amount of parental care.

House centipedes feed on spiders, bedbugs, termites, cockroaches, silverfish, and ants using venom stored in modified front legs. They have also been seen beating their prey with their front legs and adapt their hunting methods based on what they are hunting.

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It seems in some parts of the world these guys can pack a pretty nasty bite, but in North America at least they are basically harmless to humans.  I try to always catch and release insects I find in my house rather than killing them (Once when I was little at a time when I believed in but did not really understand the concept of heaven, I killed a spider for no reason. Later, I imagined it waiting for me in heaven, angry and plotting its revenge so it could finally get back at me for what I had done), but I have no plans on sending the house centipede out into the cold.  I like that it is feeding on insects I might not want in my house. I also like imagining it prowling the rooms at night–hunting, just like all of the larger and well-liked mammal predators, sniffing out dinner with its long antennae.

I don’t know why I was surprised to find the house centipede had such an interesting and complicated life history. Truthfully, almost everything I have ever learned about in nature is this way, and I should know by now that even the simplest creatures have an exciting back story to learn!

So here is to all of the creepy crawlies that live in our houses, backyards, and neighborhoods! May we at least do some small research before deciding what you are worth.

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I know it’s an obvious joke, but I couldn’t resist!

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One Response to “Backyard Creature Feature”

  1. […] is the second post in our Backyard Creature Feature series. You can find the first post here.  The last Creature Feature was inspired by a giant bug I saw scurrying up my wall in the middle […]


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