Thursday, December 1, 2011

Giant Red-Headed Centipede

Photo by: John Miller with the Missouri Department of Conservation

These magnificently large centipedes are only found in a few scant counties in Southern and South Western Missouri, particularly near the Arkansas state line. Giant Red-Headed Centipedes (Scolopendra heros) belong to the family Scolopendridae in the order Scolopendromorpha.  

All centipedes have odd numbered pairs of legs and only one pair of legs per body segment. They are commonly mistaken for millipedes....one way to tell the difference is to look at the legs. Millipedes always have two pairs of legs per body segment. Centipedes tend to have a flattened body whereas millipedes are more rounded. Millipedes lack venom, although some species can emit a chemical from their legs that can cause skin irritation. 

S. heros range in color by location, in Missouri they are unmistakable with a black body, 21 to 23 pairs of yellow legs and reddish head. This color is referred to aposematic and offers a warning to would-be predators that they are potentially dangerous. Humans should especially heed this warning, as they can and will bite if handled. They have front legs that are modified fangs. Bites are reported to be painful and will cause swelling at the bite site. If swelling persists or other symptoms appear, medical attention should be sought. It has been reported that the legs of this species can leave tiny pin-pricks in the skin, and each leg contains venom that can be dropped into each wound. This can cause inflammation and irritation.

 (Photo by: John Miller)

According to one story cited by Dr. Baerg, an officer in the Confederate Army, while sleeping in his tent, was suddenly aroused by the creepy feeling of a large centipede crawling on his chest. A number of spots of deep red, forming a broad streak, indicated the arthropod’s passage across the man’s chest and abdomen. Violent pain and convulsions soon set in, accompanied by excessive swelling in the bitten area. The victim fought with death for two days and then succumbed. The agony suffered by the bitten officer was described by an eyewitness as the most frightful he had ever observed. The famed arthtopod scientist J. L. Cloudsley-Thompson once explained that “centipedes seem to exert a weird fascination on the morbid appetites of the hysterical and insane.”


These centipedes commonly reach lengths up to 6 1/2 inches, but lengths of 8 inches have been reported. They are found on rocky hillsides, glades, under logs, stones and other protected locations. They are rarely encountered by humans because of their secretive nature, but should you come across one you won't soon forget the experience. John Miller of MDC in Southern Missouri has promised me one to add to our exhibit animals at the office where I work. He said several are brought into his offices each year to be identified and they release them. He assured me he would retain one for me. I am so excited by the prospect of having one of these amazing centipedes to use for educational purposes.

Like all centipedes they are predators and feed on a broad diet of insects, and spiders. They are fond of pinkie mice, small snakes and small amphibians too. S. heros has excellent eyesight which aids them in hunting down prey. They are also fast moving creatures and very little escapes their notice or their grasp.

Female centipedes lay eggs in rotting wood and will guard the eggs by wrapping her body around them. When the eggs hatch she will continue to stay with her offspring and look after them for a short period of time. This parental care is unusual among arthropods. The offspring will look similar to the adult, except they are lighter in color and have fewer legs. They will gain the adult coloration and proper amount of legs as they age.


Resources: 
http://www.uark.edu/ua/arthmuse/sheros.html
www.bugguide.net

17 comments:

  1. So, where was that soldier sleeping? Your state?? eep!

    Man, not to be trifled with, these creatures.

    Years ago I met an employee's advisor (my "employee" was getting her PhD at Scripps) at his office. I spied a terrarium, zoomed over, and said "OOOH, how COOL!" He looked up with surprise, as I was oohing and ah-ing over a BIG desert centipede. Then he looked at me and said "I love you." =)

    Apparently, that was not the typical response. He is the one who educated me re: they bite, and bite like CRAZY.

    Re: millipedes, I love that they (the ones we deal with in CA fieldwork) secrete red, cyanide-laced goo when disturbed. Impressive! =)

    Great post, and TERRIFYING tale re: the soldier. eep!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Oh Bio I just love reading your comments. You are a girl after my own heart...I could see us becoming fast friends. I endure much teasing and ridicule (all in good fun) for my off beat love of all things creepy and crawly. I think these centipedes are gorgeous and fascinating, if a bit creepy and intimidating. I can't wait until John sends me one for my office. The kids I do programs with will love it!!! I cannot imagine being bitten by one of these titans! That would have to hurt terribly.
    One of these days we have to meet and spend day in the field exploring.

    Friends in nature always

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for visiting Sen nian yew....and I agree these things are definitely fascinating. Incredible creatures to be sure.

    ReplyDelete
  4. If you ever need any to study in Central Texas we have MANY! I see them all the time! I have killed 2 in my house this Summer so far.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I would love the chance to see these in the wild and photograph them. As scary as they are, they are sure beautiful and fascinating.

      Delete
  5. I have a question and I am sorry I do not know the Scientific term, can they live if cut in half? The second one I have found and attempted to kill this Summer well, half of him went one way and eventually quit moving (its lower half) while I lost track of the side with its'' head, I cannot find it, it happened on my couch I have searched and well, it is a mystery!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am not sure, but my guess would be that they cannot survive without being whole. I can't imagine what happened to the other half of the one you killed, but if could have managed to hide and then dried up somewhere.

      Delete
  6. I live in Burnet, Texas and just had one on my house. I swept it out of the house. This is not the first time for a very large centipede to be in the house. The one before was very colorful and beautiful, but scared the crap out of me.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I ran into one of these exect centipede on the butterfield hiking trail in devils den state park, close to the scenic outlook. I took pictures. It was around 10 inches long. I didnt touch it. However I took a picture of it next to my girlfriends boot. It was longer than her boot.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I live outside Marble Falls, Texas (close to Burnet). I set off a bug bomb this morning before I left the house. When I returned I found one laying on the floor of my living room. For the last several months I've heard a rhythmic clicking. I could never locate the source. Could this be attributed to the millipede?

    ReplyDelete
  9. These are also in Oklahoma, not just Missouri, as the Texas posts can also attest to. I've seen these on a few occasions in Oklahoma.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have a picture of this centipede, (one leg per segment), in Ada Oklahoma. It JUMPED up about 2 to 3 feet HIGH in the air trying to attack me as I took it's picture, after I shook its' "fangs" out of my boots. It was located on the cool north side of a rocky/oak studded hillside.
      Arer these the same as in South America?

      Delete
  10. I live south of Tucson Az and this morning while preparing to leave the house, my large dog, almost went through the glass door, as I went to see what it was, thinking it was a snake, it turned out to be a giant centipede, around 9 to 10 inches long, as big around as my ring finger and it was red and black circles of color, with the tan feet, I went to get my trash pick up stick and went for it, but as aid above, it got very angry, and spun around as if to attack me, for which I hit it a couple of times and it crawled into a rick cactus bed, then I went after my scorpion spray, and soaked all the rocks in that area, I have 4 dogs, 2 of which are very small, don't want that thing in my home or back court yard, it was kind of scary. I will be spraying all the door ways with the scorpion spray tonight after the dogs go to bed, That is the biggest one I have ever seen and so aggressive...

    ReplyDelete
  11. Yikes ! and in Illinois . I am trying to identify what I saw outside our house in Skokie Il and that is what it looked like. It was late at night and i saw THAT go into a hole near a rock. Way too big for Illinois. I have never seen a bug that big( 6 inches long) in the Chicago area but that was it. I have always wandered what lives in these holes in the ground and this is it. Thank goodness they are secretive and only come out at night

    ReplyDelete
  12. I wish I could post the picture of the one I observed today, 10/14/17, on top of Petit Jean Mountain near Morrilton, Arkansas. Petit Jean is in Central Arkansas and sits on the Arkansas River. The little critter was very speedy. I called it the Halloween Centipede.

    ReplyDelete