Centipedes are often considered harmless insects, though many of the several thousand known species are actually venomous. The good news with centipede venom is that it may be painful, but it is not normally lethal to humans.
These insects, which normally emerge from hiding to hunt at night, are easily recognized by their many legs. In fact, the name centipede comes from two Latin terms meaning “hundred” and “feet.” Despite the name, no centipede species has exactly 100 feet, with the number of feet instead ranging from 30 to 354.
There are about 3,000 species of centipedes currently known to scientists, though it is estimated that there may be as many as 8,000 species around the world. One recently discovered species is particularly interesting – a giant swimming centipede.
The giant swimming centipede, known to scientists and other really smart people as Scolopendra cataracta, was first discovered in 2001 by George Beccaloni, an entomologist on honeymoon in Thailand. Beccaloni may have been newly married and still on honeymoon, but he could not resist the urge to turn over rocks beside a stream looking for insects.
Beccaloni described the giant swimming centipede as being large and having a horrific appearance, long legs, and a dark green-black color. The centipede immediately scurried into the stream to hide when it was exposed under the rock. Beccaloni was undeterred by the centipede’s escape attempt, and captured it and placed it in a container of water. The centipede then began to swim about the container like an eel.
Since centipedes normally avoid water, the discovery of the giant swimming centipede was significant. In fact, it is the first known amphibious centipede. As it turns out, one was found in 1928 in Vietnam, but was incorrectly identified at the time. It was only following Beccaloni’s discovery that the centipede was properly catalogued. The discovery, despite having occurred in 2001, was only recently revealed in ZooKeys, an online science journal.
Centipedes like Scolopendra cataracta are nocturnal hunters that will eat pretty much any invertebrate, including mice and snakes. The insects are equipped with fangs that allow them to pierce a prey’s skin and inject venom to paralyze the prey. Fortunately, while they can deliver a painful bite to a human, the venom is not fatal to humans.
Beccaloni thinks that this giant swimming centipede, which can reach eight inches in length, goes into the water at night to hunt for amphibious or aquatic invertebrates. He noted that many studies have been done on tropical streams during the day, but more studies need to be done at night to see what critters come out to play under cover of darkness.