Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Giant Centipede

Image: Tod Baker
Giant Centipede pretty much just means 'really big centipede'. It usually refers to the (really big) ones in the family Scolopendromorpha. When people think 'big centipede' or even just 'centipede', they usually think of a typical (or really big) member of this family. The biggest one of the lot is Scolopendra gigantea, the Amazonian Giant Centipede, which can get over a foot (30 centimetres) long, while others can be much smaller. The really big ones are mostly tropical, but sizeable ones can even eke out a living in deserts. This is interesting, since they dry out easily and like to keep themselves to moist areas and are generally nocturnal.

Centipedes have long antennae which they use for sensing their surroundings and finding food. For a giant centipede food can include lizards, rodents, tarantulas and of all things, bats. They are utterly opportunistic and will eat just about anything they are capable of catching and holding down with a dozen or so legs. This, even if it requires crawling into a cave, hanging off the ceiling like a Hallowe'en decoration (using a dozen or so other legs) and catching a bat in mid-air. Some of them have compound eyes that look akin to that of insects, but are in fact just a cluster of simple eyes called ocelli which can tell light from dark and little else. That doesn't mean you can mess with a Giant Centipede though! Let's take a look at why.

For one thing, there are those oddly elongated hindmost legs. Many centipedes can use these as back-end antennae, so coming from behind is not necessarily a great idea.

If you're lucky they'll just flee. While not exactly built for speed, the longer centipedes with fewer legs can run at quite a pelt, some 20 inches per second apparently.

Hopefully they'll be running in the right direction: away. If it gets on you and starts clambering all over you in a fretful state, some giant centipedes can pierce skin with the claws on their feet. Some also release nasty substances from glands near their legs. Now, this could be sticky stuff that can defend against ants. It could be distasteful stuff that could teach some animal what not to eat. It could also be a load of stuff dripping down their legs and getting under your skin through the little holes their claws are creating. This can cause a trail of swollen skin and teach you what not to mess with.

Another thing you have to realise is that not only can giant centipedes run fast, they can also react fast. While you're joking around at the hindmost legs you may well find the foremost legs are greeting you with a speed you hadn't counted on.

Image source
These foremost legs are the forcipules. They look like pincers under the mouthparts and it is with these that centipedes, all centipedes and only centipedes deliver venom. A bite from a centipede, particularly a big one, can be extremely painful and cause swelling and fever, but not, it seems, death. It is more dangerous for small children, the elderly or those allergic to bee stings, but not as altogether fatal as many assume or suggest. Some centipedes can't even pierce human skin and other bites aren't particularly painful at all. Strangely, not a great deal of research has been done into centipede venom, which, if you think about it, suggests they don't actually kill people in the way that some snakes can. Still, pain is pretty bad too, so the people who keep giant centipedes as pets are advised to Handle With Care, if at all.

Centipedes are fairly long-lived, especially compared to insects. Some can live for a decade in the wild and even longer in captivity, so he could be your dangerous friend for quite some time.

Some females also protect their eggs from predators and cleanse them of fungus. Sometimes her young will even eat their mother when they hatch. Start as you mean to go on, I guess.


Amila Kanchana said...

Aw! I got stung By a 6" long member of this family few years ago. Painful business, it was!

Comment1 said...

Ooooo, ouch! It could have been worse, you could have been a mouse.

Peter Perrotta said...

@Amila Kanchana If you thought you got stung by a centipede, you have no business going anywhere near them.

BenPN1000 said...

They bite rather than sting.

Joseph Jameson-Gould said...

Nope! A bite implies mouth parts are used. Centipedes don't use their jaws, they use their front legs which are modified into a venomous pincer.

Kamil Raji said...

But is it normal for centipede to be inside a living room with human?

Joseph Jameson-Gould said...

It can happen! A lot of creatures find human abodes very comfortable

Ethan Kranz said...

Im never moving to where they live.

victor manning said...

Ahhh. Fuck it, I'll get one.
Try'n make it as big as possible over the decades. Nam' sayin'

Joseph Jameson-Gould said...

You can get him a treadmill to build up his muscles

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