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Centipedes


by Richard Jones

With insects, getting a closer look is very often a question of grabbing at something that moves very quickly, and only then discovering what it is.


centipede, Lithobiuss speciesI'm a very hands-on sort of naturalist. If I can, I pick up whatever it is I've found to have a closer look. With insects, getting a closer look is very often a question of grabbing at something that moves very quickly, and only then discovering what it is.

So it was when I uncovered a huge centipede, which bit me. It was one of the Cryptops species, with 21 pairs of legs. I didn't have to count them, it's just that it obviously had more than the 15 pairs possessed by the shorter and broader Lithobius (pictured above) and yet far fewer than the 50 or more pairs possessed by the long, thin Geophilomorpha group.

They're fascinating animals and as soon as I saw it under the log I scooped it up to show to the kids. With all those legs it's no surprise that centipedes can run like the clappers, so to hold it still I held my index finger down over its body as it scrambled over the palm of my hand. Pinned down, it obviously felt slightly threatened and tried with all its might to sink its jaws into me.

Centipedes don't have jaws in the conventional sense; instead, they have two long scimitar-shaped fangs. These are evolved from what was once their first pair of legs, and reach from their attachment at the back of the neck right round to meet in a pincer action at the front of the head. For their small prey, these fangs are deadly, since they are hollow and contain venom.

Normally when I pick up centipedes between finger and thumb, their actions are useless against my tough hide, but this one found the softest part of the palm and I could distinctly feel it puncture the top layers of epidermis. Even here, though, my skin was too thick and all I could feel was a mild pinching.

The reaction of my children was split. On the one hand they were slightly horrified and repulsed by the creature attacking me. On the other, I think they were secretly egging it on to see whether I would yelp when the stinging venom finally made an impact.



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Gardeners' World Web User 28/11/2011 at 18:36

Very informative piece. what are the common prey species for centipedes?