Sometimes even scientists need a little bit of luck to make their discoveries. Dr George Beccaloni, who studies insects at the Natural History Museum, was on holiday in Thailand in 2001 when he picked up a rock and a giant centipede ran out! It scurried into some nearby water but not quickly enough – Dr Beccaloni was able to catch it.
Over the intervening years this aquatic centipede (it swims like an eel) has been studied and in May this year the findings were published in the science journal Zoo Keys But what do we know about these fascinating creatures? Here are some facts about centipedes:
- This new species scolopendra cataracta (waterfall centipede) is the only amphibious centipede. All others live exclusively on land
- Despite this one being discovered by a man who studies insects (an entomologist), centipedes are in fact chilopoda, a type of arthropod with many legs
- ‘Centipede’ means ‘100 legs’ but most have between 30 and 60. The largest number of legs ever counted on a centipede is 342
- Centipedes first evolved 430 million years ago, when our ancestors were still fish!
- If a centipede loses a leg it will grow a new one. They can shed legs if attacked by a predator and still escape on the many that remain
- Centipedes are carnivores. Most eat insects, spiders, worms, slugs and snails but larger ones dine on frogs and small birds
- The front legs of a centipede have developed into fangs. These are used to inject venom into their prey which paralyses it – much like those of a spider
- Centipedes are nocturnal. They dislike the Sun as it can dry them out, so they hide in dark, damp places during the day
I hope that you are not frightened of centipedes – they can bite, but none of the ones found in the UK will cause you much harm. Why not go looking for some in your garden? Who knows what you might find under that rock – you might find a new species, just like Dr Beccaloni!
Do you like centipedes? Not many of us like creepy crawlies of any kind, but we love them here at Education Quizzes. We have quizzes devoted to insects, spiders and other invertebrates in our Nature section, where you’ll find trivia on many different bugs – from moths to millipedes! A must for all invertebrate aficionados! If you are one of those, then may I recommend the Buglife website? It’s a mine of information about creepy crawlies of every description, plus what we can do to help them. Well worth a look.