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Monstrous insects: Giant centipede

Updated on August 31, 2011

What insect-like creature do you think looks most like a monster?

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Peruvian giant yellowleg centipede
Peruvian giant yellowleg centipede
Giant centipede
Giant centipede
Head of a giant centipede
Head of a giant centipede
Giant centipede fossil
Giant centipede fossil
Scutigera coleoptrata
Scutigera coleoptrata | Source

Giant centipede

The name giant centipede is used for two different species of centipede, the Scolopendra gigantean and the Ethmostigmus rubripes, but it is the real name of the latter. Scolopendra gigantean’s real name is Peruvian giant yellowleg centipede or Amazonian giant centipede. These large creatures are not insects actually but athropods and can grow to be over 30 centimeters long, while the Ethmostigmus rubripes is about 18 centimeters long. The Amazonian giant centipede can only be found in south America, and the E. rubripes (the ‘real’ giant centipede) is found in and around Australia and Asia. The microhabitat the giant centipede lives in are moist places like rotting trees or on moist grounds. The centipedes lack a slime cover on their chitin plates, which makes them dry out very fast in a dry environment. The centipede has a body which is made up of 21 to 23 segments which all have a pair of yellow legs. So these centipedes have about 42 to 46 legs in spite of their name.

Feeding behavior

The giant centipede is carnivorous and eats mice, frogs, birds and lizards. It finds its prey with its extremely sensitive legs and antenna with which it senses trembling of the ground. It moves towards the trembles it feels, if these indicate a prey animal off course, and searches for its prey with the long antenna on its head. Once it is close enough it grabs the prey with its front legs and the modified claws on its head (forcipules). With these modified claws the giant centipede injects toxins into its prey. Among these toxins there are neurotransmitters, which are molecules which act on the nerves. The neurotransmitters the giant centipede excretes work on pain receptors and make a bite from one of these monsters hurt extremely bad. A bite from a giant centipede also causes swelling, fever and weakness. The centipede excretes the toxins not only via its forcipules but has small glands around its body and has a small layer around its chitin plates.

Centipede evolution

Centipedes are around for quite some time now, dating back as far as over 400 million years ago. Actually the oldest known fossil of any land living creature is a myriapod, the subphylum in which the centipedes belong. A lot of (giant) centipede fossils have been found from different times, indicating the centipedes have survived for a long time and are still doing well.

Parental care

The females of Scolopendra gigantean show parental where a lot of species of the centipedes just deposit their eggs in a hole and leaves them there. The females of the Peruvian giant yellowleg centipede lays her eggs in a hole in the moist ground or in rotting wood just as any other centipede female would, but stays with the eggs to protect and clean them. So no insect or small mammal can eat them, and she cleans the eggs by licking to prevent that fungi grows on them.

Other centipedes

The Scutigera coleoptrata has long legs and that makes it look just a bit more monstrous than any of its relatives. Although it is not as long as the giant centipede, someone who do not like spiders will not become a great fan of this species of centipede.

The family of the Geophilomorpha contains eyeless centipedes which entirely rely on the touching senses. Also these centipedes range from 27 to 191 segments in their body, but they always have an uneven amount of segments strangely enough.

Giant centipede on National Geographic


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