The money bug

Posted by Tim 3.14.2010

As you've probably put together from the heading pic, this post has nothing to do with an itch for riches. Sadly, the topic is much more unsettling than that.

My hatred of creeping things is well-documented. From the menace of Methusalian mosquitoes to the pure, unfiltered evil of spiders of all types (recorded here and here), I've established pretty soundly that I don't like things that could potentially crawl into my brain while I sleep. That said, aside from spiders (which haunt my dreams and test my bladder control), creepy-crawlies don't really scare me, per se, I just hate the thought of them getting all up in my business.

Moving to new places is always a crap shoot on the bug front. I feel like I fared quite well at my last residence, disaster though it was in many respects. A handful of spiders and relatively few mosquitoes combined to register low on the Raid-ar (pun absolutely intended). But when I left the Single Mini-tel behind, I opened up the possibility of something less favorable.
My new apartment in south-central Seoul is palatial compared to my old room, complete with all the necessary furniture and appliances I need, and there is plenty of space for guests. Unfortunately, I am learning that there are more guests than I first realized when I moved in.

I am talking specifically about centipedes.

House centipedes.

Or, as Koreans call them, "Money Bugs."

Here's a picture that should give you an idea of what they're like:

The first encounter came as quite a shock, actually. I was composing an email one evening when I saw a darting shape out of the corner of my eye. I looked up on the wall behind my screen only to find a 3-inch centipede scrambling up towards the ceiling. I yelped in surprise and a battle ensued, which consisted of me stabbing with my umbrella, knocking off its legs, having it fall from the ceiling onto my body, flailing my arms madly, and finally succeeding in crushing the poor brute as he fled gamely for his dark corners.

Once the deed was done, I looked frantically around my room. Until that point, centipedes had never entered my consciousness, and so I had never bothered to keep an eye out for them. But as I started to look around with them in mind, I glanced up at my light fixture and realized there were three more camped out inside it. This worried me for a few reasons. For all I knew, those centipedes were still alive, and removing the cover on the light fixture would rain down multi-legged terror on my head. There was also the possibility that, if they WERE dead, the centipedes had been busy making babies before they expired and said-terror would be smaller but far more numerous, ready to emerge at any time. I still haven't mustered the courage to explore the light fixture, so in the meantime I hope I don't have little baby-pedes crawl out and take up residence. I might just lose it if they do.

It turns out that these types of centipedes are actually quite common here (though I confess in my almost 3 years of experience living in Korea, this is the first I've seen of them). I was also surprised to discover that they're quite common all over the world, including the United States. But common though they may be, that doesn't decrease the disgusting-ness factor.

I am nevertheless torn over their presence, and I'll tell you why.

Wikipedia tells me a lot of unnerving things about these little crawlies. They can live in your house for the entirety of their 7 year lives, they like closets, they're nocturnal, and they get it on like rabbits.

BUT, Wikipedia also tells me that they eat spiders.

Given my history, that's huge.

And thus I'm torn.

Because the fact of the matter is that I would prefer these 30-legged beasties to their vile 8-legged cousins. If they can munch the spideys (and do it while staying completely out of sight and out of my clothes/bed), then they're probably worth keeping around. But the centipedes also have to realize that if they show their disgusting little faces it's not going to end well for them.

(to transition completely suddenly)
You're probably wondering, "Why do Koreans call them 'Money Bugs'?"

Money Bugs are a relatively new inhabitant of Korea. They hail originally from the Mediterranean, but explorers and traders took them all over the world after the 16th century. In the spring and fall, the Money Bugs were lured by warmth, and most of the warmth they found came from the houses of well-off people. The poor generally couldn't afford to heat their homes much (if at all), particularly if it wasn't winter. Thus it was generally only the wealthy that had to deal with the bugs inside their homes. So having a Money Bug come strutting into your bed room meant that you were probably well-enough-to-do, and its presence became a good omen for wealth and success, particularly if you were a little down-trodden yourself.

What am I supposed to make of them, then? On the one hand, they eat spiders and portend financial comfort. But on the other, they are huge and gross and invasive and fast and I hate them. What do I do?

For now, I've decided to let them be (meaning I won't be fumigating any time soon). But it's a "don't be seen or heard" relationship. The second I spot one of these bugs, good omen or not, it's game time.

Watch out, Money Bugs.

But while you avoid certain death at my hands, make sure to take a few spiders out in the meantime.


  1. Anonymous Says:
  2. You better have taken care of this "problem" come April 26th....

  3. Anonymous Says:
  4. Came across your blog while googling "house centipedes korea". We live in Osan and have recently moved from a high rise into a stand alone house. We have tons of these scary little guys. They are always a surprise when I turn on the lights in the middle of the night. I enjoyed reading your me some insight!

  5. Anonymous Says:
  6. Hysterical. My husband never knows what to do with them because he thinks killing them is bad luck!

  7. Anonymous Says:
  8. Lived in Tonduchon back in the 70's as a non command sponsored spouse. Money bugs came out everywhere after dark! Ugh. That plus roaches! Ugh, ugh! Thus I kept everything that went in my body, etc, or to my lips, plus underwear in my frig! Don't laugh, it worked!

  9. Anonymous Says:
  10. If you get rid of your cockroaches, the population of the money bugs decreases dramatically. Also it helps if you try to keep your house as dry as possible - wipe your kitchen sink dry after using it, keep your bathroom floor and shower dry - which is something Koreans usually dont do. Get a dehumidifier for your appartment - really nice in the rainy season and sweatty summer.

    As for me, I live in the country at the foot of a mountain, so we get all kinds of critters. Well, the spiders eat the mosquitos, so that's nice, the snakes get rid of the mice and frogs - but I am vary of the snakes, since they are poisonous - but what I really dont want to see is the millipede. Check out mukade, the Japanese name - but it exists in Korea, too!


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