Common Name: Amazonian Giant Centipede
Scientific Name: Scolopendra gigantea
Species: S. gigantea
Did you know that the venomous Amazonian Giant Centipede or the Peruvian Giant Yellowlegs is a popular house pet among “arthropod fanatics”? This creature’s very potent venom contains acetylcholine, histamine, and serotonin, which is very toxic to humans and causes chills, fever, swelling, and weakness. However, their venom is not toxic enough to kill us. The adult Giant Amazonian Centipedes reaches lengths over 35 centimeters (over a foot) in length, that’s larger than a human man’s forearm! This makes it the biggest centipede in the world. Usually, centipedes attain lengths of only 1-2 inches.
Its body is a red-maroon color, consisting of 21-23 segments, with 46 yellow-tinted legs. It has poison in its forcipules, (modified claws) and its legs are very well adapted for running at tremendous speeds and for efficient climbing. They typically live in a moist, cold, dark, lightless cave. The tropical climate in the Amazon jungle has a lot of these niches. They do well in the ecosystem because they hide under bark, rocks, dead leaves, and burrow soil, and are thus able to camouflage. Camouflaging helps it to pounce on its prey as well as hide from predators. Since their climbing and running abilities are so great, they scale the walls of a cave to catch unsuspecting prey.
They are found in the northern and western regions of South America and in the islands of Trinidad and Jamaica. Their population must be large since people rear them as house pets. Deforestation may threaten their habitat. The female shows great parental care and tends to guard the nests full of eggs. Usually, the male watches the nest, but if he gets impatient, he eats the eggs. These animals have to lick the eggs in order for the eggs to survive; otherwise, the eggs will dry out. The young are known to be black or dark red in color, with thin bodies and large red round heads.
This centipede is extremely carnivorous, it feeds on lizards, frogs, birds, mice, and even bats. How do centipedes eat bats? Giant Amazonian Centipedes first climbs a wall and scurries to the middle of the cave ceiling. This creature then holds on to the stone ceiling with its back legs and allows the rest of its body to dangle into the cave below. Next, it sways back and forth for its next intended prey: a passing bat! Once an unsuspicious bat is caught, the poison in the forcipules kills it, and the centipede has earned a very delicious meal. The centipedes’ climbing, running, and poison features allow it to compete for food with other centipedes and snakes. This animal preys on herbivores (like bats) and primary carnivores (like tarantulas, yes you heard right!) that put it either in the third or fourth trophic level. The cane toad (Bufo manus) probably is one of the few predators of this giant centipede, since it is known to prey on all terrestrial animals in the Amazon rainforest. This giant centipede’s running and climbing skills probably help it to evade being eaten by predators.
What stood out most about this animal was the hunter’s amazing skill of catching fast flying bats, inside the caves of the Amazon rainforest. I was also amazed at the length of this centipede. I learned that the Amazon rainforest is bubbling with life, and is home to hundreds of strange animals like the Amazonian Giant Centipede.
Author: Praveen W.
Bellows, Alan. "Giant Carnivourous Centipedes." Damn Interesting. 21 Nov. 2006. 31 Jan. 2008 . Dehkan, Cyrus. "Giant Centipedes." Suite101.Com. 10 July 2007. 7 Feb. 2008 . Holt, Dr.Terry. International Wild Life Encyclopedia. 3rd ed. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 2002. Shandris, ed. "Scolopendra Gigantea." Wikipedia. 29 Mar. 2007. 4 Feb. 2008 . Wikipedia Foundation, ed. "Centipede." New World Encyclopedia. 28 Nov. 2007. 2 Feb. 2008 .