Chasing Centipedes


Chasing Centipedes


  • 1982 - 2000
  • centipede on white background

The Curatorial Centre was built with a high level of security in mind. The stairways to each floor were locked off daily at 6 pm and subsequent access was only available by pass keys for the elevator. This meant that each week day a security officer would unlock the stairway doors from top to bottom just before 7 am. These arrangements did not restrict the access of insects.

One morning on the landing in the west stairway between the first and second floor, the latter housing the Entomology Department, a toy caught the eye of an officer. It was about 6 inches long, an inch wide, red in a plastic looking way and with about 20 legs. It was stoically immobile. He waited. It did not move. OK, he thought, someone’s playing a joke. He had more doors to unlock and hurried on.

Then he sought out the other patrol officer. “Did you do 1 & 2 last night?” “Yes.” “Did you go down stair 2?” “Yes.” “Was there anything on the stairs?” “No. Why?” “I’ll show you.”

Long practice gained catching cockroaches would now pay off. The officer procured a large empty yogurt tub – to drop from above – and a thin sheet of cardboard – to slide underneath – and met her on the second floor. They descended to the middle landing and found nothing. The toy was gone. The centipede was afoot. Wait! There it is - disappearing under the door on the first floor. Quick through the door and – there it is – under the door to the main library stacks.

By this time the second officer is providing the necessary screams for such a chase while the only other officer, anxious in the Control Room from our failure to arrive back on time and receiving alarms from the library, is trying to find out what’s happening over the radio. “What’s going on? Why aren’t you here?” “We can’t come,” she replied. “We’re chasing the centipede!”

Fortunately, they’re slower than cockroaches. And they can’t fly. Unfortunately, they have venomous barbs. Fortunately it was caught without incident. (The same officer was stung years later in the museum by a porcupine. The fortune in that case was that it was dead, a frozen specimen from a broken freezer concealed in a burlap bag.) As with other strange bugs found in the museum or dropped off by the curious public, the captured centipede was turned over to the Entomology Department  for identification.

“Ah, yes,” they said, “It’s one of ours. In fact, we brought back two and they both escaped. So there’s another one out there. If you find it, DON’T TOUCH IT.”

The department  figured that the critters would seek out humidity and heat and work their way down to the tunnels and die. In retrospect, that fate fell on the missing one, but they likely had two for breeding purposes and a chance encounter prevented a threat to the supremacy of the ubiquitous cockroaches.