Sunday, June 17, 2012

Mi Scusi, Scutigera! Will you terrorize my mother?

There is a list in my mind of rare, emotion-inducing creatures (terror, awe, infatuation) for which I've not yet documented my experiences.  This means that whenever one swoops across the yard during breakfast, swims past my face during a working dive, or skimmers over the floor when having a conversation with an old friend, all my current actions stop.  (Skimmers is like 'skitters,' but lightly, quietly; like a rapid wafting.) The Noah you know as a civilized modern human dissolves, exchanged for instinctual Homo sapiens in hunting mode.  So it happened a couple nights ago that I found myself breaking conversation with a high school buddy I've not seen in 7 years to vault over furniture and nimbly place an overturned glass on this monster, which I've only seen in our house three times in the last 15 years:

Scutigera!  Aieee!!!
If you'd seen the name written in a list of house-dwelling bugs, you might imagine it a potentially charming, dignified, Italian paisano of an insect; perhaps riding on a Vespa's handlebars and squeaking "Ciao!"  While it is endemic to the Mediterranean region, it's been around North America since the mid-1800's.  And unfortunately, after seeing its picture, no doubt I have to win you all back from your recoiled positions atop your favorite reading chairs.  Indeed, mom's not happy at me for making her scream; I shrieked suddenly and grabbed at her when she leaned in for a closer look at the captured creature.  Her fear was only skin deep, haha!

(I asked mom to make the disapproving face again so I could post it on my blog.  This photo is not a testament to her acting ability; rather, she merely disapproved of me taking a photo of her to put on the internet.  Thus, the disapproving face.  I know, I'm a genius.)

Personally, I don't believe in using people's fear to build suspense; if I'm not afraid, you (usually) shouldn't be, either!  Why would I want to encourage unnecessary fear?  But I went that way with this post title because Americans get a tax credit for referencing "terrorism" in any form (helps the war effort).  Gotta... pay... the mortgage?  Politics aside, this cute "bug" is a type of centipede (Phylum Arthropoda, Class Myriapoda, Order Chilopoda), called a House Centipede (Scutigera coleoptrata).  Like other centipedes, the front-most pair of legs is modified to inject venom used to kill prey.  Exceptionally rare stings would be no worse than a bee's.  Of course I wasn't certain of that yet when I was outside taking photographs (sometimes, research comes second).  Thus, another terror for mom when I ran inside shouting "I need to check that it won't kill me before I go ahead and hold it."

What many people forget about "wild animals" (another weird term to me) is that the tools they use to attack are not always what they use to defend.  Scutigera defend themselves by being nocturnal, living in narrow places, and detaching legs if they are caught.  The venom is for catching prey.  Thus, when staring down a human, the threatened Scutigera will scoot away as fast as it can, towards dark shadowy places.  It will not attempt to bite its way out like an outlaw gunslinger shooting up a wild west canteen when the sheriff arrives.

Don't you see the cuteness now that you're not scared?
Though these may live for seven years, they never get larger than a couple inches body length.  The 15 pairs of legs do make them look longer, to be sure; perhaps a whole hand's length!  But it's the length of the last pair just acting as camouflage; by looking like long antennae, the creature looks larger and disguises which end is its head.  You would do much better than squishing them by leaving them be, perhaps even offering a courteous little bow when you see these specialized hunters running through your house.  They are there only because it is moist, unfrozen (in seasonally frozen northern states, they only live in houses) and there are lots of other bugs to eat (which they catch by jumping on them or lassoing them with their long legs).  And if you're not gonna drop your fear of bugs, know that this little scooter - or "snallygaster" as one internet nature lover recalled their grandfather's term for it - is your ally, hunting down the spiders and carpenter ants and beetles that (may) also annoy you.  Something for everyone!

*A Scutigera spreads preening fluid from maxillary glands over its cuticle.  I.e., it's Windex-ing it's legs to stay fast and clean.  Like waxing a fancy Ferrari to increase performance - visual, aerodynamic... Being the best this bug can be.

...And that's why to remain respectful, I always release creatures back where I've found them (see video, lower).  Especially for northern snallygasters, where I know they will not survive the winter outside!  Just nobody tell my mom, OK?

1 comment:

  1. released into my living room?!!! Noah!!!!@#$%^$&@