Cochise County Arthropods: The Common Desert Centipede

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Here at the Border Fort, we’ve had an average of one or two common desert centipedes (Scolopendra Polymorpha) show up inside the house annually since I built the place in 2010.  Most of them have been on the large end of the scale for this species, rarely less than five inches in length.

There’s a bigger species, the giant desert centipede.  Fortunately for my wife’s peace of mind, we’ve not seen any of those.

In fact, Pam hasn’t had to deal with any centipedes, period…until today.  Some months back,  Gato cat spotted a hundred-legged one afternoon as it scuttled toward my chair position in the office.  His pricked ears got my attention, and the scuttling arthropod got the flat of my shoe.

Repeatedly.  They do take some killing at times.

Around 1:30 p.m. today, though…maybe I should just tell the story.

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The scream of steel tearing itself apart ripped the air.  I spun from where I was picking up fuel cans for a run to the gas station and stepped back out in the open, looking around wildly for the source of the sounds.  They couldn’t be from the generator I’d just started up to run the AC unit that cools Pam’s bedroom–these were big steel-tearing screams and getting louder with each repetition.

Like an oil rig derrick coming down the hard way, maybe.

No.  Couldn’t be.  There was no traffic I could see.  Nothing fit.

Javelina!  That was it!  A pig in distress, being eaten alive by predators.  If you’ve heard the dying squeals of a stuck pig, strung up by its hind legs and pouring out its life blood, you know the sound.

Whatever could make a pig scream in pain and terror like that was nothing to take lightly.  My eyes darted to the tall bunchgrass and brush thickets on the other side of our homestead.  Whatever was behind this was nothing I wanted surprising me.

Then, finally–a second or two or three or four later–I turned back to the north to see Pam burst from the front doorway of the Border Fort, arms waving.

WTF?!!!  Those were her screams, nor did she stop ripping the atmospere with them till she saw me drop the gas cans and start toward her on the run.  She was on her feet–cat spontaneously combusted or something?  What?!

She was yelling words I couldn’t quite make out, heading right back into the house..then finally I got it.

“Centipede!  In the sink!  Or maybe it’s a snake, I don’t know!  I think it’s a centipede!”

We only have the one sink, a utility version I installed as our very first bit of indoor plumbing in 2010.  She’d gone to Water Pik her teeth, picked up the black plastic dishpan from the sink–and the centipede that had been hiding under the thing came right along with the pan.

Scream!

She slammed the pan on the edge of the sink–smart move–and dislodged the critter so that it fell back into the sink.  But now she was afraid it would crawl out–no, it tried, but it couldn’t!  But now she was terrified it would get away down the drain and come lunging back up at her in the future, meaning she’d never go near the sink again in all her born days!

Scream!  Scream!  Scream!

In her younger years, home alone with children to protect, she couldn’t do that.  Had to be strong for the kids.  But not now;  it was just her and–if she could ever get my damned attention–me.

Scream!  Scream!  Scream!  Scream!

Once inside the house, I had to tell her, “Give me a second–gotta get a light.  I’m sunblind at the moment, can’t see a thing.”

This particular common redheaded desert centipede (the giants have black heads and tails and more dangerous venom) was at least as terrified by my redhead as she was by it.  Scrambling, trying to make it up the sides of the sink, it fell back again and again.  It showed no interest in the drain, a fact that very much helped my wife’s insanity stay in the temporary zone.

I felt no desire to kill it.  In fact, I was experiencing more than a twinge of sympathy for the terrified Soul treated to Pam’s hypersonic sound treatment.

Ah…there!  A rinsed-out half-gallon Juicy Juice bottle was available in the dish drainer, ready to go to work.  I held the bottle down in the sink with the open end in front of the little beast.  The first two times, it turned away.

The third try did it.  In fact, the centipede seemed to suddenly understand I was trying to help.

It scooted right into the container.

Not only that, but once inside the more restricted space–despite the bottle walls being completely transparent–it took a turn or two around its cage and settled right down.

“Thanks for saving me,” the centipede seems to be saying. “Your wife really had me terrified!”

Pam had a harder time settling down than the centipede did.  This was admittedly a big one for a common desert (not giant) version,  closer to 6 than to  5 inches in length.  And suddenly appearing “right in her face” as it had…yeah.

I got her an extra Valium out of the safe.  Which she vomited right back up in short order.

“Guess I took it harder than I realized,” she admitted.

The centipede resting in the Juicy Juice bottle, awaiting transport to a safe area for release.

These arthropods are pretty interesting critters.  The mothers lay eggs and actually take care of them, grooming the eggs until they hatch–and even grooming the hatchlings for a few days, after which the ungrateful brats go their separate ways.  Word is, they can live as long as 15 years after leaving Mom’s house.

My wife is a pretty interesting critter, too–especially when she’s ticked off at me for not hearing her horrified, desperate screams for help.

It took a while to explain the problem:

1.  In no way had I been able to associate those piercing screams with anything human.  Had I ever heard people being burned alive or torn apart by rampaging hyenas, then yeah–I probably would have recognized the sound immediately.  But I’ve lived a softer life than that, thankfully, and missed the connection entirely.

2.  She couldn’t understand why I’d looked in every direction but toward her.  Well, when she lets loose like that, the sound seems to come from everywhere.  If it was coming from the brush, no way was I turning my back on that.

My sweetheart’s no fool.  Once she realized the double barreled nature of the problem, she got over her mad at me and settled down.  After vomiting, of course.

Centipede on glass in sunlight.

Centipedes are normally night hunters.  Why the occasional indivdual wanders into the house–most likely through the front door weather stripping–we have no idea.  Very few do.  This was the first to make it to a higher elevation within the home.

Pam fears the drain even now, but that’s not the entry point.  To access the drain, a crawler would have to start from the septic tank leachfield, travel all the way through the septic tank, all the way to the house through the ABS piping, then up to the sink.

Not happening.

Most likely, it climbed a table leg or possibly the wall, drawn to the water in the sink…and simply fell over the side at some point.

Up close.

Before I could fully discuss my failure to respond properly to Pam’s scream-alarm, I had to figure out where to release the out-of-bounds beastie.  Of equal importance (in my book), photographs had to be taken so this page could be published.

Duh.

The centipede didn’t seem to mind.  Scoff if you like, but there’s zero doubt in my mind that it could sense my relaxed good will…and responded in kind to at least some small degree.

“Sure, I’ll pose,” it seemed to be saying.  “Face on, even.”

Facing the camera.

The selected release point was a good 80 yards out from the house.  With hopes of getting a couple of photographs as it scuttled for cover in thick dead grass, I tipped the Juicy Juice bottle enough to let the centipede make its exit on open ground.

Zwip!  No delay here, buster, just taking care of business and racing to find a hiding place!

Turns out things like owls and coyotes and such do prey on centipedes if they find them, venom or no venom.  A centipede out in the open during daylight hours is asking for it.

Racing for cover.

Scolendra Polymorpha is also called the tiger centipede because of the stripes.  Makes sense.

I was clicking the shutter on the Canon PowerShot as fast as it would cycle…but still only got one more photo.  When the centipede is in a hurry, those umpteen legs move it right along.  Of course, it doesn’t really have 100 legs.  This one, if I counted right, only has 36.

The centipede (lower center) was well under cover and gone from sight no more than a second or two after this photo was taken.

With the centipede back out in the desert where it belonged and my wife settled down somewhat from her panic, one question remained:

Where were the cats?

At first, Pam worried they might have scooted out the door when she left it open while desperately trying to get my attention.

“No way,” I assured her.  “With you screaming like that, they wouldn’t have gone anywhere near you.  They knew terror was in the house, so they went and hid.”

Which of course is precisely what they had done.

Eventually, Gato came back out from under the raised floor in my bathroom, a floor that was built with spots deliberately left open so he’s got an ultra-safe retreat in the event of, say, a home invasion.  Kitten Precious had parked her furry butt beneath the well-covered small table next to the bigger table in the kitchen.

Standard procedure.

Obviously, the hero of the day was not me.  Rather, the Juicy Juice bottle deserves most of the credit.

The hero of the day.

2 thoughts on “Cochise County Arthropods: The Common Desert Centipede

  1. Thanks. Gato just pointed out another one for me, mere minutes ago. Unfortunately, this one IS now loose in the house. Fortunately, it was last seen trying to hide in a kind of folded seam of my cordura guitar case which hangs in one corner of my bedroom–near but not in touch with my headboard.

    When I saw what we had (Gato and I), I went & got a bucket to catch it and a steel ruler to flick it loose–but in the seconds that required, it had done a disappearing act.

    I say “fortunately” ’cause it’s in MY room, not Pam’s–and no, I have no intention of mentioning its presence to her. She’s already terrified one will crawl up on her bed and in her words, “Get me!”

    They are homely beasties, but even if I got nailed, it wouldn’t be a life threatening situation. Painful, sure.

    Also fortunately, from the glimpse I got, this one’s smaller than the one featured on this page. But I am puzzled about one thing. NOWHERE in the literature have I come across ANY mention of them seeking higher elevations. Supposedly, they stick to the floor of the Earth where there’s good scuttle-cover.

    Could be the indoors disorients them. No way to know.

    I kind of think my “bedroom centipede” fell off the guitar case. If so, there’s more than plenty of clutter down there to keep it happily hidden till hunger drives it to wander.

    Will I sleep well tonight? Yep–if I ever get to bed, that is. Figure if Dawson Trask (in the Tale Teller series) can report having slept among the dead at Gettysburg, I can at least snooze without concern in a home featuring a vagabond centipede.

  2. Seems to me I’d heard of that. Not by guys I knew personally, though. Most of them got stuck right out in the jungle and the rice paddies. Especially my six-three buddy Randy, who wrote about sticking out at both ends of his roll.

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