Wednesday 4 March 2015

Feathertail Centipede

Image: Frupus
Oh no! It looks like people have put in so much effort into ruminating over the terrifying prospect of flying spiders they've completely overlooked another, far more likely, possibility:


Images: Frupus
I mean, when you have like 30 legs there's that much more opportunity for one or two of them to turn into wings, right?


Well, it's happened. Sort of.

Image: Frupus
In eastern Africa there lives an entire genus of strange, feather-tailed centipedes. The genus is called Alipes, which means "wing-leg". Viewed from the front, they appear as nasty and brutish as any other big, Scolopendrid centipede...

Yet they end in delicate, leaf or feather-shaped shenanigans.

You needn't worry, though. These centipedes won't allow a little thing like a pair of pretty feathers change them. They still slink around in search of something to plunge their stinging front legs into.

Image: Frupus
Oh, and they can't really fly, either. I just wanted to see you squirm and consider the possibility of a foot long stick o' legs and venom swooping down on your head and plunging its stingers into your face while a nearby spider watches in dismay and laments the terrible circle of life.

But if they're not wings what on earth are they?

If you look at other, related centipedes you'll see that many have rearmost legs that are extra thick, extra long and often brightly coloured. When you're as long as a centipede and your front end is venomous and stings, it's a good idea to have something on the other end that can at the very least serve as some kind of warning.

Video: crawshai

Feathertails take the "big back legs" thing to a whole new level. Each one is long and flattened until it's almost dangerously thin. Why? Because Feathertails take the "back leg as warning" thing to a whole new level, too. When agitated, they wave their legs from side to side to stridulate. That is, they rub one part of a leg against another part of the same leg to produce a sound that warns predators of the leggy, venomy thing they've just encountered.

They can also cut off their own feather-tails and the disembodied leg will continue stridulating all on its own! Hopefully that leg will grab all the attention so the rest of the centipede can get away.

So it turns out Feathertails aren't about flying and biting. They're about politely alerting assailants of their venomous presence. It is, in fact, a cautionary tail. And we can at the very least thank them for the pun.


TexWisGirl said...

i look at these and feel a sting. :)

Porakiya said...

they have some quite lovely colors. At least they can't fly......for now :D

Joseph JG said...

@TexWisGirl: I find the sheer number of legs quite itchy!

@Porakiya Draekojin: Yeah, just you wait!

Unknown said...

They wag their tails when they're annoyed, just like a cat! Just like a many legged, venom clawed multi-tailed cat!

Okay, so not *that* much like a cat.

Crunchy said...

Every time I see a centipede I have a hard time deciding if it's beautiful or super-gnarly. Fortunately it does not come up often.

Joseph JG said...

@Jacob Littlejohn: Wow! That sounds like a SuperCat! Maybe that's how cats see themselves?

@Crunchy: Ha! I know what you mean. I like seeing them on the move. They kind of meld a smooth, confident, slinkiness with a frantic, over-enthusiastic, murderous evil.

ColdFusion said...

aw man I was expecting you to say they curl into a disc and spread ou their legs and somehow manage to glide a bit, like those snakes that can flatten their bodies. That would be terrifying.

Joseph JG said...

That would be incredible! Ah well, a man can dream. And wake up screaming.

Unknown said...

can they grow back their feather tail once they've dropped it?

Cheech said...

It’s totally the sound effect from the movie Pumpkin head