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Don’t Fear the Creeper

From the Skepchick back channel:

On Apr 14, 2013, at 9:01 PM, Mary Brock wrote:

We just found a huge, red house centipede (in the sink!) and so we sucked it up into the vacuum. Now we are terrified to empty the canister because we are both paranoid the bug will come out with the dust. So my question is how long do these fuckers survive without food/water? We don’t know if it was sucked into the main part of the vacuum or if it is lurking in the tubes, so we duct taped the holes and we’re not going to use the vacuum for a while. Until it dies, hopefully.

One of the benefits of having a diverse group of smart people on call at all times is that when you ask a question like that, you get an honest answer from an entomologist:

On 15 April 2013 12:04, Bug Girl wrote:

Well, they do like moisture, so it’s possible that being in the canister with all the dust is unhealthy. But honestly? You may not be able to vacuum again in 2013 if you wait for it to die.

It is harmless, and a helpful predator.
And for a small fee I will come to your house and empty your canister :)

You also get a lot of snarky answers from an asshole:

On Mon, Apr 15, 2013 at 9:06 AM, Rebecca Watson wrote:

Maybe you should just make a bonfire and burn the Dyson? Oh but then what if it explodes and the centipede had been pregnant and then millions of flaming centipedes fly through the air at you?


On Mon, Apr 15, 2013 at 9:08 AM, Mary Brock wrote:

Don’t think I didn’t consider it. The house isn’t safe until the bug is dead.


On Mon, Apr 15, 2013 at 9:21 AM, Rebecca Watson wrote:

Maybe you could buy a small snake and send it in through the Dyson’s tube. It would find and eat the bug, and then you can take it out and then you have a pet snake.


On Mon, Apr 15, 2013 at 10:00 AM, Jamie Bernstein wrote:

House Centipedes are the best! I do not understand the fear of them. They look like primitive bugs that crawled the earth with the dinosaurs. They move so fast and are harmless and eat all the terrifying bugs like spiders and cockroaches. Granted, I only saw my first house centipede when I moved to Chicago a couple years ago, but my first apartment had ivy all over the outside so I got a lot of them. My cat loves them too. House centipedes are his second favorite toy, second only to mice.


On Mon, Apr 15, 2013 at 10:05 AM, Mary Brock wrote:

My cats are worthless as bug killers, except when it comes to flies.

I don’t believe this–most people I knew in person hate house centipedes, and you all love them? Blech! Our apartment doesn’t have cockroaches or spiders (that I’ve seen), only the occasional fly and carpenter ant (which are promptly smashed).


On Mon, Apr 15, 2013 at 10:08 AM, Rebecca Watson wrote:

Your apartment doesn’t have cockroaches and spiders because of the bravery of the house centipede imprisoned in your Dyson!


On Mon, Apr 15, 2013 at 10:10 AM, Mary Brock wrote:

Oh well, we killed a baby one a few months ago too. SO THERE.


On Mon, Apr 15, 2013 at 10:13 AM, Rebecca Watson wrote:


Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. So are you saying the house centipede is like the Buffy of insects? She alone will face the cockroaches and the spiders.

    I still am scared of them. And camel crickets.

  2. I kept interpreting “House Centipede” as a Game of Thrones reference. Now, mind you, Legend of the Five Rings would’ve made more sense (since a) I have read that, b) there is, IIRC, a House Centipede, and c) I have neither seen nor read anything Game of Throne), but GoT it was.

  3. Some years ago I was camping in the California desert when a blue centipede entered my sleeping bag and bit me…in a rather sensitive spot. So while they don’t give me the willies, I still don’t care to have them around.

  4. Even Wikipedia lists them as a form of non-toxic pest control. I trust arthropods before I’d trust a human. Humans kill because it’s for fun and profit, arthropods do it because they are hungry.

    1. Don’t trust anything in order diptera (flies, mosquitos, etc). On one hand, flies decompose dead organic matter which is important. On the other, they can and do spread nasty diseases. Mosquitos are parasites and spread even worse diseases, but at least serve as food for beautiful dragonflies.

      Termites damage wood, so keep them from your house, and of course if you have allergies, avoid Hymenoptera (bees and wasps). Ants themselves don’t spread disease but are pointers to places that are unclean if they are in your home.

  5. That’s a millipede. To the extent that it can be determined it appears to have two pairs of legs per segment, centipedes only have one pair per segment. #TruthInMSPaintCampaign

  6. Why don’t people do what we did with random spiders we weren’t sure were poisonous? Catch the thing under a big bowl or cup or something, then slide a piece of paper under it, and toss it outside.

    Then again, we used to hunt for turantulas to pet (FUZZY!), and hunt for scorpions with black lights. Centipedes are kind of really tame compared to scorpions. #DesertRat

  7. For those not in the know (which is probably most people, since I don’t post comments very often) I’m Mary’s husband. I was the one to vacuum up the offending centipede… squishing it would have required me to get closer than 5 feet away. Thankfully the hose on our Dyson has a decent reach. The picture of the sad centipede actually made me feel a little guilty. Then I looked at a photo of a real house centipede, and I’ve returned to my old stance (which can be summed up as “KILL IT WITH FIRE!”).

    They may be harmless, and they may kill off other bugs, but this is one of those times where I’m all “Not cool, nature. Not cool.”

  8. I’m a long-time lurker, and the very first comment I have felt compelled to make is this: Nothing should have more than eight legs. No thing. Nothing. [shudder]

  9. The thing about irrational fears is that they aren’t rational. Neither pointing out the harmlessness of centipedes nor mocking the person are useful. Nor should the fear be dismissed – it is no less real for being irrational, and we all have our own irrational fears. (Mine center on social situations, telephones and financial forms.)

    If the fear causes a significant impact on your life, seek professional help. Otherwise, just get somebody with a different set of irrational fears to deal with it for you.

    Now I need to sign off to go remove some caterpillars from our kitchen ceiling, as a household member freaks out about being attacked by kamakazi caterpillars.

  10. Microwave the Dyson on high for 5 minutes. If that doesn’t work, paint it and sell it on EBay.

  11. Finding it in the sink makes me think of the last time I found a house centipede. It was in the bathroom sink. It managed to crawl into the sink sometime between when I wet and loaded up my toothbrush and when I went to spit. So I lean down towards the sink and all the sudden see a centipede where I’m expecting nothing but porcelain. It was very upsetting.

    1. Yup, I used to live in Hawaii and the first time we went camping at Bellows Beach, I woke up at 2 am to see the shadows of centipedes(yes plural I think there were 5 or 6) crawling all over the outside of the tent. I then proceeded to fall asleep and dream of giant centipedes chasing me…aaaggghhhh! Tip: in the tropics ALWAYS shake out your shoes before you put them on! In Guam it was the chihuahua sized cockroaches and the tree snakes (the bats and coconut crabs were cool)

  12. House centipedes are literally my only NOPE. Spiders are cool, millipedes are fine, bees don’t freak me out. It’s all the legs and the speed and, R’hllor help me, those fucking STRIPES.

  13. If you have a big enough freezer, you can put the vacuum cleaner in there and wait over night. Freezing will kill it. If you are worried that it will survive freezing, freeze it and thaw it multiple times. Each freeze-thaw cycle has a pretty good chance of killing it, so doing it 5 times is (pretty good) ^5.

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