Everyday Nature: How I Came To Love House Centipedes

Centipede by Flickr use robwatski via a Creative Commons Sharealike license.

Centipede by Flickr use robwatski via a Creative Commons Sharealike license.

I’ve been called a lot of strange things in my life, but I never thought I could be called a nematode-lover.

I certainly never envisioned a day when my wife would start referring to house centipedes – those terrifying huge invertebrates that seem to have a million legs and run at top speed – as our “honored guests.”

We’re definitely not “bug people,” so what turned us around?

As an ecologist, I can appreciate that even unlovable critters serve valuable functions in nature like decomposing organic matter and  keeping the populations of other organisms in check.

Then again, I never thought the indoors had room for biodiversity or strange “guests.” Living in the aptly named “eco-house” in college (where a dirt floor basement and holes in the walls contributed to hefty populations of slugs, moths, flies, and more) forced me to get used to it, but it certainly wasn’t my ideal living situation.

So you can imagine my unhappiness when I discovered several years ago that I’d moved into a condo chock full of house centipedes.

Then the ecologist in me started wondering why they were there, and what would happen if I successfully got rid of them. I knew that getting rid of wolves in Yellowstone led to a number of problems (e.g. higher elk populations started to wipe out cottonwood groves), and that the centipedes wouldn’t be there if they weren’t finding something to eat.

It turns out house centipedes actually eat cockroaches, ants, bed bugs, moths that can eat clothes, and other household pests.

We don’t keep a pristine house, and living in a condo there are always cockroaches and ants somewhere nearby, waiting to strike. When we realized that these beasts were our front line against even more unsavory bugs, our attitudes towards them changed; after all, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

No more vacuuming them up, and no more trying to bring the humidity levels low enough to make them unwelcome.

A Few Million Nematodes

nematode

When our household worm compost bin (another adventure in urban ecology) got infested with fruit flies, we naturally wondered about biological controls.

While there were many species of mites, springtails, and other tiny bugs in our bin, we were missing predators.

I ordered a few million nematodes (a kind of tiny roundworm) by mail. Within a few weeks (long enough for the adult flies to die off and their larva to have been eaten) we had a fly-free bin. To this day, I smile when I see the tiny little white thread-like nematodes patrolling my compost bin, looking for new larvae to eat.

My wife has made it clear that bringing in spider eggs from outside to take care of the occasional housefly is going too far.

But we’ve learned that whether we like it or not, we do share our homes with a variety of other creatures.

Rather than dive into a spiral of ever-increasing applications of poison or traps, we’ve been learning to love our allies, no matter how creepy they may be.

(Photos: Centipede by Flickr user robswatski under a Creative Commons Sharealike license; nematodes by Jon Fisher/TNC under a Creative Commons Sharealike license). 

Opinions expressed on Cool Green Science and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy.

Posted In: Science, Uncategorized

Jon Fisher is a spatial scientist for The Nature Conservancy. He has studied forestry, environmental biology, stream ecology, environmental engineering and how technology and spatial analysis can improve wildlife management at airports. His current work mostly revolves around spatial analysis, sustainability, and web mapping. He also loves vegan cooking, biking, and finding ways to inject science into everyday life.



Comments: Everyday Nature: How I Came To Love House Centipedes

  •  Comment from Bill Allen

    I’m nit-picking, but – centipedes aren’t insects.

    •  Comment from Kerri

      Maybe I’m nit-picking, but he never refers to them as insects.

  •  Comment from Susan Storm

    Can’t imagine I’ll ever use the word “love,” but I’ve moved from a catch-and-release model to just shooing them out of the way while sighing and shaking my head.

  •  Comment from Gus Pine

    I have prevented vacuuming spiders on the roof edges and it did decrease the number of mosquitoes during rainier summer months.

  •  Comment from msLaura

    This is why we just shoo spiders out of the way when we find them around the house (or get out of *their* way), and we encourage birds to nest all around the garden. Never a problem with cockroaches or pest insects.

  •  Comment from Matt Dowell

    Great piece! My wife and I recently moved out of a place that had a fairly substantial population of house centipedes. I don’t think I ever reached the same level of acceptance that you did. However, a part of me realized that, in my attempts to eliminate the centipedes, I was shooting myself in the foot as we also had an out-of-control population of cellar spiders and good numbers of cockroaches. I’m sure the centipedes were helping to keep the numbers of these other undesirables at bay.

  •  Comment from Lady Libertarian

    Saw one the first day I moved into my room. Less than a month later (tonight), I flick on my light switch tonight just in time to catch one scurrying across my sheets! My natural reaction is to take out threats, so that centipede is no longer with us, but I couldn’t help but think “What was it after that I DIDN’T see”. I’m crossing my fingers for nightmares :/

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