Maggie Koerth-Baker is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. A freelance science and health journalist, Maggie lives in Minneapolis, brain dumps on Twitter, and writes quite often for mental_floss magazine.
Spring is in the air. The plants are sprouting. That last pile of snow on the shady part of your neighbor's lawn has successfully melted. And your bathroom is alive with terrifying, multilegged creatures that look like this:
Yes, it's active season for everybody's favorite arthropod, scutigera coleoptrata, aka the house centipede. One of these bad boys scuttled across my bathroom floor just last night. My cats, which were born in the South and are still somewhat disappointed by Minnesota's distinct lack of huntable palmetto bugs, think this is great. I'm less enthused. But I figure that when life hands you horrifying household pests, the least it can do is make them interesting.
With that in mind, I present:
Four Facts You Didn't Realize You Wanted To Know About That Thing Living Behind Your Toilet
1.Scutigera Coleoptrata are Not Your Fault
Stop beating yourself up. Unlike, say, cockroaches, house centipedes aren't hanging around because you didn't clean the kitchen. At least, not directly. Scutigera coleoptrata feed on spiders and insects--they're actually pretty beneficial if you're willing to do the devil's arithmetic here and decide that you'd rather have one fast-moving centipede than a colony of roaches. That said, leaving crumbs and half-eaten sandwiches about does create a nice environment for s. coleoptrata's food to grow in. So it might not hurt to clean.
2. Scutigera Coleoptrata are Efficient
They're actually capable of eating several other bugs at once, noshing on one meal while holding onto another with one of their 30 legs. They usually hunt at night, waiting for prey to get close enough that they can jump onto it, lasso it in, or whip it into submission.
3. Scutigera Coleoptrata are Not a Toy
House centipedes do their hunting via a set of venomous front legs. The good news: They won't come looking to start a fight with you and, most of the time, even if you do egg them into attacking, they won't be able to break your skin barrier. The bad news: That's only most of the time. S. coleoptrata has apparently successfully stung humans before. Not life-threatening, it's supposed to feel a lot like a bee sting.
4. Scutigera Coleoptrata Will Not Forget This
Unlike a lot of household pests that can be expected to die shortly after breeding, s. coleoptrata can live as long as seven years. There's a distinct possibility they've been in your house longer than you have. During that time, they can grow to be as big as 1.75 in. long. Unsurprisingly, getting rid of them isn't easy. Sticky traps are often recommended, but the house centipede can escape those by simply breaking off the stuck legs and growing them back later.
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.