The above image of a centipede curled protectively around her babies,
shows another side to these often maligned myriapods (myriapods have
many pairs of legs).
Centipedes are usually found in soil, leaf litter and under rocks or bark, but
some venture into or prefer to reside in our homes.

Centipedes are fast-moving, venomous predators. A bite from their poison claws
(modified legs) can cause minor to severe pain.

A bite from a Giant or Scolopendrid (from the order Scolopendriomorpha) Centipede is
one to be particularly wary of. These centipedes grow up to 30cm long and have large
forcipules (sickle-shaped pincers), with a blade-like inner edge used to inject venom.

Recent research by Dr Eivind Undheim from the University of Queensland, found
that Giant Centipedes have “complex venom glands with many venom-producing
structures”. Dr Unheim and his research team examined the structure of venom
glands through microscopes to find 100 times more venom glands than other types of
centipede. And mass spectrometry revealed that each venom gland produced different
types of chemicals at different concentrations.

Dr Undheim considers it possible that Giant Centipedes have a more varied diet,
requiring a diversity of toxins.

CSIRO’s online key makes centipede identification relatively simple, provided you
can get them to stay still!

Article by Liz Gould


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