Recently I’ve been reading a book on notable disasters in human history. One of these was the 1902 eruption of Mount Pelée on the French island of Martinique. Before the volcano fully erupted, it spewed ash and sulphur, poisoning water and killing livestock. Wildlife was also affected, with venomous snakes roaming the streets of St. Pierre, and ants and centipedes raiding sugar stores. I was quite taken with that picture – if you imagine you lived in St. Pierre in 1902, and suddenly the mountain you live under starts spewing ash, your livestock die, food stores are eaten by swarms of ants and creepy centipedes, and to top it all off terrifying and deadly snakes start roaming the street. I don’t know about you, but I’d be pretty certain whatever god or gods I worshipped had turned on me, and were reaping judgement on man for his sins.

Mount Pelée, looking serene and beautiful these days.  Source: http://www.geology.sdsu.edu/how_volcanoes_work/Pelee.html
Mount Pelée, looking serene and beautiful these days.
Source: http://www.geology.sdsu.edu/ how_volcanoes_work/Pelee.html

You might be asking yourself what this story has to do with this blog. Well, for one thing, it’s an awesome story, and if I can’t share cool stories on this blog, then I’ve done something wrong. Secondly, I started imagining myself in St. Pierre and decided the most terrifying thing would be the foot-long centipedes raiding the sugar stores. That got me thinking about centipedes, and then inevitably to a possible blog post. So now you know a little bit about Mount Pelée, and you’re going to learn about giant centipedes. Fun!

A giant centipede with a hand for scale.  Source: http://www.bubblews.com/news/1071025-giant-centipede
A giant centipede with a hand for scale.
Source: http://www.bubblews.com/news/1071025-giant-centipede

The biggest centipedes in the world are the Amazonian giant centipedes, which inhabit areas of northern South America. They need to live in humid environments to prevent themselves from drying out, so you can find these massive insects in places like damp soil, leaf litter, and rotting wood. Basically you can find them in places where you’d expect to find a centipede.

Did I mention these centipedes are giant? They usually reach about 10 inches in length, with some growing over a foot long. The centipede is organized in segments, with each segment having a pair of legs. Giant centipedes have either 21 or 23 segments, meaning they have that many pairs of legs (so not 100, like their name suggests). The first pair of legs is modified into forcipules, which are used to inject venom into the centipede’s prey. The rear legs of the centipede have spines, which the centipede uses to deter potential predators.

A giant centipede wrestling a lizard. Pretty crazy stuff.  Source: http://www.wilderspin.net/School%20stuff/Rainforests/CreepyCrawlies.html
A giant centipede wrestling a lizard. Pretty crazy stuff.
Source: http://www.wilderspin.net/School%20stuff/ Rainforests/CreepyCrawlies.html

Giant centipedes are fierce predators, using its legs, which are designed for rapid movement, and venom to catch prey. A giant centipede will basically eat anything it comes across that it can kill, including insects and tarantulas, small lizards, frogs, snakes, birds, mice and bats. Yes, that’s right, a centipede can catch and kill a bat. They can crawl to a ceiling of a cave and wrestle a bat while only clinging to the ceiling with a few pairs of legs. Those are some strong legs! Once the centipede has wrestled its prey into submission, it injects it with venom, which can kill pretty much all small animals, and cause severe pain in humans. So stay away from huge centipedes (though why you’d be getting close to something so terrifying in the first place, I have no idea).

So now you know that giant centipedes are not only creepy and crawly, but also vicious, aggressive, and venomous. Truly an animal to respect, and avoid. Although for some reason they are becoming very popular as pets. So if you meet someone with a giant centipede as a pet, don’t be friends with them. Because they are strange, strange people.

Cover image source: http://www7.svsu.edu/~tkschult/moia/amazonian-giant-centipede.html

Advertisements