Anyone would cringe at the thought of centipedes, let alone have one dart out of a dark corner in the house to your feet. But these multi-legged creatures are as fascinating as studying alien beings from a foreign world. They are part of the invertebrate class and play a crucial role in sustaining the diet of many small vertebrae.
Other species give birth to live ones. The male deposits a spermatophore and leaves it for the female to find or coaxes it to ingest the sperm through courtship. The female lays an average of 10-50 eggs, in a single fashion. A female centipede can produce close to 160 baby centipedes within her life span. Despite their unsettling nature, female centipedes are exceptionally good mothers. They will tend to their eggs and hatchlings, curling around them for protection from potential prey. They’ll also lick the eggs to keep off fungi. Once disturbed or threatened, the female will eat the eggs or abandon them, leaving them vulnerable.
Like their parents, a centipede’s coloration is a warm mixture of brown and red. Those found within caves and subterranean habitats lack pigmentation due to less exposure to sunlight. They cover a large geographical region, from the tropics and arid areas to colder climate, surviving in the harshest conditions. The scientific names are a mouthful, but are gracefully swapped for generic terms. Centipedes are grouped into four major classes extensively studied; House, Stone, Tropical and Soil centipedes.
Centipedes are carnivorous in nature and are among the largest terrestrial invertebrate predators. They have a spread-out diet, as they have a variety of different available prey. House, stone and soil centipedes are smaller in size and will feed on insects, small earthworms, molluscs and annelids. The larger centipedes that dwell in tropical regions and caves feed on equally large prey like bats, birds and mice. Most centipedes have poor eyesight or are literally blind. They detect movement through vibrations. The front pair of legs act as pincer-like limbs called forcipules that inject venom in their prey. Their antennae point backwards. They curl around it as the venom takes effect. This said, not much is known of their feeding habits due to their seclusive lifestyles
Quite contrary to their name, centipedes do not have a complete set of legs totalling to 100. An adult always has an odd number of segments, from 15 to as many as 191 in the larger species. Thus the leg number will always be odd. They take 1-3 years to reach maturity, ranging from a few milimeteres to 14 inches. That’s the size of a 30 cm ruler. They’re excellent house cleaners, avoiding human contact unless by accident, preying on unseen spiders, cockroaches and other house pests.
Surprisingly, people rear centipedes, as pets or delicacies served in restaurants and sold in open air markets in Asian countries. Though not fatal, their bites are usually painful, causing severe swelling, chills, partial paralysis, not to mention the horror of being bitten by an actual centipede. Next time you spot one in the house, don’t grab the nearest shoe. Gently guide it out.