Scutigera coleoptrata

Geographic Range

Scutigera coleoptrata, the common house centipede, is thought to be native to the Mediterranean. Today it can be found throughout Europe, Asia, and North America. (Barnes, 2003; O'Toole, 1986; Barnes, 2003; O'Toole, 1986)


Scutigera coleoptrata prefers temperate climates and are often found in buildings. They can apparently survive in many humid habitats, as long as there is a place to hide, sufficient humidity, and enough food. They are often found in dark, humid areas such as crevices under rocks and caves. In residences they're more commonly found in basements and bathrooms (probably because of higher humidity there). (Buchsbaum, et al., 1987; Drees and Jackman, 1998; O'Toole, 1986)

Physical Description

House centipedes are brown or black in color. Like all arthropods, S. coleoptrata has an exoskeleton made of chitin and sclerotin. Its dorsal-ventrally flattened body is divided into fifteen segments with one pair of legs per segment. The first pair of legs is modified into fangs used for capturing prey and as protection. There are three dorsal longitudinal stripes, and the legs are banded. They have very well developed antennae and compound eyes. Most range from one to six cm in length and are very quick runners in comparison with other centipedes. (Arnett Jr., Ph.D., 1985; Barnes, 2003; Drees and Jackman, 1998; Grzimek, 1972; O'Toole, 1986)

  • Range length
    1 to 6 cm
    0.39 to 2.36 in


Immature S. coleoptrata hatch from the egg appearing very similar to the adults, although they have only four pairs of legs. As they develop they pass through five larval instars, with each molt gaining more leg pairs. After their fifth molt, they have all fourteen pairs of legs and are mature. (Barnes, 2003; Drees and Jackman, 1998; O'Toole, 1986)


Scutigera coleoptrata is stimulated by pheromones and sound signals. During courtship, males circle and tap other centipedes looking for a receptive female. Once a mate is found, the male spins a silk pad in which he places his sperm. The female then takes the sperm pouch and fertilizes her eggs. Courtship and reproduction occurs during the warmer months of the year. (Drees and Jackman, 1998; O'Toole, 1986)

Female house centipedes lay their eggs in the soil and cover them up with a sticky substance. Courtship and reproduction occurs during the warmer months of the year.

In laboratory observations, females laid an average of 63 eggs, and a maximum of 151 eggs. (Barnes, 2003)

For about two weeks after the baby centipedes have hatched, the mother and her offspring live in the same place, providing some degree of protection for the young. (Drees and Jackman, 1998; O'Toole, 1986)

  • Parental Investment
  • pre-fertilization
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • protecting
      • female


Scutigera coleoptrata spend the winter in isolated protected habitats and become active in the spring. They retreat to underneath rocks and logs during the day, becoming active at night. They use their antennae to sense the environment around them, although S. coleoptrata makes better use of its eyes than most other centipedes. House centipedes migrate or burrow in response to changing environmental conditions such as extreme cold or drought. (Drees and Jackman, 1998; O'Toole, 1986)

Food Habits

Scutigera coleoptrata is carnivorous, eating worms, snails, cockroaches, silverfish, fly larvae, and other arthropods. It senses its prey using its antennae which have scent and touch receptors on them. House centipedes then use their fangs to hold the prey while injecting poison with the modified front legs. After eating, S. coleoptrata retreats to a safe place to let the food digest. (Buchsbaum, et al., 1987; Drees and Jackman, 1998; O'Toole, 1986)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • mollusks
  • terrestrial worms

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

House centipedes eat many pest organisms, such as cockroaches (Blattodea) and silverfish (Lepismatidae). (Drees and Jackman, 1998; O'Toole, 1986)

  • Positive Impacts
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

House centipedes are not aggressive, but can bite people in self-defense. Often their fangs are not strong enough to break the skin. If they do get through skin, the venom injected can cause a painful bite, comparable to a honeybee sting.

As relatively large and active arthropods, many people consider their presence indoors a nuisance. (Barnes, 2003; Drees and Jackman, 1998)

  • Negative Impacts
  • injures humans
  • household pest

Conservation Status

Other Comments

S. coleoptrata are very fast moving centipedes. They have a shorter body and longer legs than other species, preventing them from tripping over themselves as they run. Their legs progressively get longer towards the rear of the body. This allows the rear legs to cross the legs in front of them, going above and to the outside, preventing entanglement. The rear-most legs are actually twice as long as the front-most legs. (O'Toole, 1986)


Sara Diamond (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Winston Ricks (author), Southwestern University, Stephanie Fabritius (editor), Southwestern University.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

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living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

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bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


a wetland area rich in accumulated plant material and with acidic soils surrounding a body of open water. Bogs have a flora dominated by sedges, heaths, and sphagnum.


an animal that mainly eats meat


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature


union of egg and spermatozoan


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.


a distribution that more or less circles the Arctic, so occurring in both the Nearctic and Palearctic biogeographic regions.

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Found in northern North America and northern Europe or Asia.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night


found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

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reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.


a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.


an animal which has an organ capable of injecting a poisonous substance into a wound (for example, scorpions, jellyfish, and rattlesnakes).


Arnett Jr., Ph.D., R. 1985. American Insects: A Handbook of the Insects of America North of Mexico. New York, New York, USA: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company.

Barnes, J. 2003. "House Centipede" (On-line). University of Arkansas Arthropod Museum Notes. Accessed March 23, 2005 at

Brusca, R., G. Brusca. 2003. Invertebrates. Sunderland, Massachusetts: Sinauer Associates, Inc..

Buchsbaum, R., M. Buchsbaum, J. Pearse, V. Pearse. 1987. Animals Without Backbones. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Drees, B., Jackman. 1998. A Field Guide to CommonTexas Insects. Houston, Texas: Gulf Publishing Company.

Grzimek, B. 1972. Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Ecology. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company.

O'Toole, C. 1986. The Encyclopedia of Insects. New York: Facts on File Publications.