This article is about centipedes. And while this isn’t that appealing a topic, it will have a familiar ring to anyone living in Malta, particularly during the rainy, humid months of autumn to late spring. If you live in an old, stone house with pot plants, a patch of soil or rubble walls around you, then the black centipede will be your house mate for the winter. I live with plagues, and I mean plagues, from October to around mid April, when the stone finally begins to dry out. Then, in peak summer months, I find (fewer) centipedes in the house – but they’ve worked out inside is far cooler and damper than out when it’s 40 degrees C plus. But right now, I dread venturing out on my back patio after dark to pick a herb I need in the cooking. The stone is simply seething with the things.
I am writing this post to illuminate anyone like me who hasn’t quite cured the problem of how to rid premises of them, and also to assuage the fears of any unsuspecting tourist who may find one in a rented property, or, dread of dreads, in a hotel room.
If you have close fitting windows and doors, you may rarely come across one. If you do, rest assured they are harmless, if rather ugly. Internet research reveals them to be the Black Portuguese Centipede, and the majority of references to them as ‘pests’ come from Australian sources. Apparently, the creature arrived as an unwanted guest aboard a ship in around 1950, and has now colonised most of Southern Australia. Hardly anyone in the Mediterranean has commented on them – I think we’re just so used to them.
I am sure my son has a kiddies’ story that has a nice, caricature-style drawing of a centipede in it. And there’s Roald Dahl’s ‘James & the Giant Peach’ centipede of course. But my slithering companions are not nice. Woe betide if you step on one. Quite apart from the massive crunch, they leave an indelible stain on the limestone floor, and give off a really ‘orrible pong’. I was in an upmarket interiors shop in Sliema earlier this year and smelled their unmistakable smell – I, or another client had just done the honour of stepping on one.
How to cull their numbers
Not easy this one, but a quick way to stem numbers and hatching is to make sure you sweep up regularly all leaf and organic debris littering your patio. They are herbivores and thrive in leaf mould and damp conditions. Lift pots up – incredibly they sneak under them very easily however tight the pot is to the ground. I found an Australian company that does a kind of frictionless compound that you can apply as a strip along under doors ledges and right along the wall for a few inches. I am not sure it’s available in Malta, but here’s the link. On my rugged stone, I’d need a good few pots to remove the friction those centipedes’ legs love to move on.
For an amusing – if that’s the right word – low down on these kritters, see an American in Malta’s story here.