John Weekes

John Weekes is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Centipedes spawn fear and loathing in suburbs

The Scutigera is known to kill cockroaches. Photo / Supplied
The Scutigera is known to kill cockroaches. Photo / Supplied

A creepy critter is making its presence increasingly felt in Auckland homes and gardens.

House centipedes of the Scutigera family spark fear and loathing among householders when making their lightning-fast visits to villas in the suburbs. "They put on a great turn of speed, the legs are almost a blur," Auckland Museum entomologist John Early said. "One enquirer described it as looking like a floating pencil as it zoomed across the floor."

Early said it was not clear how widespread the bugs were in New Zealand. Visits from a different, introduced Australian species were often reported, rarely proven.

"It's not clear whether we've got one species or two. It's possible one of them is an Australian species."

The bug expert said rumours the beast had detachable legs - and could regrow them - were probably false, though their limbs did break off readily.

Mt Wellington resident Cam Kay noticed a Scutigera in his home recently. "I don't know how I went 25 years without seeing one," he said. Kay was initially repulsed but decided to do some research. "When I read that it kills cockroaches, I set it free under the house."

Residents scared of the photo should not hold too many fears; Scutigera won't usually last long inside human homes. "Once they're in, they desiccate fairly quickly and die. They don't like the dry interior," Early said.

Scutigera were beige-coloured with dark stripes down the back and are about 3cm long. Early said the name "house centipede" was a carry-over by British colonists. A similar European species lived in homes but the centipede preferred weeds and woodpiles.

"It can give you a bite, which might hurt but isn't going to be particularly nasty. Coax it into a jar and liberate it outside."

Mt Eden resident Sophie Williams, 20, said she wouldn't buy Early's advice: "I'd grab a cup - and flush it down the toilet."

- Herald on Sunday

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