Sunday, January 30, 2011

A New House Guest

 
Our House Centipede - better in real life
 
 We don’t actually have houses as such here in the Selous, which is why I was nonplussed when we found this house centipede (Scutigera coleoptrata) in our mess area yesterday.  It’s a stunning critter (no, really, these pictures don’t do it justice) with 15 pairs of finely detailed legs, an amazing turn of speed, and a crafty trick of using their hindmost legs to mimic antennae as a means to deceive predators.

Pretty, but not our house centipede


While it may be well known to many folks from abroad, none of us had seen one before, and so we went scurrying into the books to identify it (with the help of Mark Vibbert – Amateur Research Entomologist Extraordinaire).
 
 According to the textbooks, they originate from Spain and around the Mediterranean, and have now made their way right across the Northern Hemisphere through Europe to Asia and North America.  Some delinquent house centipedes were even sent down under to Australasia.

What is surprising, though, as the textbooks point out, is that they haven’t gone south into Africa.  Okay, there have been a few localized sightings along coastal South Africa, but they probably got there by ship rather than by, well, foot.
  
Compound eyes - not good for reading
(Picture courtesy: KevinCollins123)

So, despite their well developed eyes, it turns out that they just don’t read textbooks, and have happily taken up residence in the Selous.  Maybe the problem is that they can’t read at night, because although they’re supposed to be nocturnal, ours was seen running around in broad daylight.  (I’m aware that this last argument has flaws.)


The moral of the story, if you need one, is that you should never believe everything that you read.  But everyone knows that already.  So, maybe it’s that distribution maps for all creatures great and small are always going to be proven wrong eventually, because our world is such a wonderfully fluid living evolving organism.
For our snazzy new centipedes, though, it’s simply a case of ... mi casa es su casa.


Another stunning Scutigera Coleoptrata
(Seriously, House Centipede is the best name they could come up with?)
A feetnote: In case you're wondering why having this fella around doesn't bug us, I should explain that the House Centipede has been described as the 'most beneficial bug to man' because of how efficiently they hunt down and eat all the bugs we like the least, like bedbugs, termites, cockroaches, silverfish, ants and more. So they can make themselves right at home...


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