Scolopendra gigantea, also known as the Peruvian giant yellow-leg centipede or Amazonian giant centipede, is one of the largest representatives of the genus Scolopendra with a length up to 30 cm (12 in). It can be found in various places of South America and the Caribbean, where it preys on a great variety of animals, including other sizable arthropods, amphibians, mammals and reptiles. These arthropods have surged in popularity among collectors of exotic pets. They are known to be very aggressive and nervous.
The Peruvian giant centipede is among the largest species of centipedes, regularly reaching 26 cm (10 in) in length, and sometimes 30 cm (12 in) or more. In common with other members of the genus Scolopendra, the body of this species has 21 or 23 well-marked sections with each section having one pair of legs. Its legs are adapted for fast movement during hunting or retreating. Its head is covered by a flat shield and features a pair of antennae, and also features a pair of modified legs terminating in sharp claws called forcipules, which are the centipede's primary weapons for killing prey and self-defense. The forcipules are used to penetrate the victims' bodies for venom injection. The centipede has simple eyes with poor vision, seeing only shadows and light, so it relies highly on touch and its chemoreceptors. It breathes via the round, triangular or S-shaped openings located along the sides of its body and which connect to trachea.
Distribution and habitat
It is naturally found in northern South America. Countries from which verified museum specimens have been collected include Aruba, Curaçao, Colombia, Venezuela (including Margarita Island) and Trinidad. Records from Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Haiti, Mexico and Honduras are assumed to be accidental introductions or labeling errors.
Scolopendra gigantea can be found in tropical or sub-tropical rainforest and tropical dry forest.
Behavior and diet
This centipede is nervous and jumpy and may move rapidly if disturbed. It is carnivorous and aggressive, feeding on almost everything it encounters that it can kill. It is capable of overpowering not only other invertebrates such as insects and even tarantulas, but also vertebrates which include small lizards, frogs (up to 95 mm long), snakes (up to 25 cm long), sparrow-sized birds, mice, and even bats. They are known to employ unique strategies to catch bats in which they can climb cave ceiling and hold or manipulate their heavier prey with only a few legs attaching to the ceiling. During a fight, the centipede will use its entire body to coil its enemies or prey with all its legs firmly attached to the body of the opponents. Centipedes will cut away at their prey when eating.
The venom of Scolopendra gigantea is potent, containing acetylcholine, histamine and serotonin (pain mediators), proteases and a cardiodepressant factor. These constituents are fatal to most small animals including their prey and are toxic to humans, in which they can cause severe pain, swelling, chills, fever, and weakness. However, they are unlikely to be fatal to humans, except those who are allergic to the toxins.
- R. M. Shelley & S. B. Kiser (2000). "Neotype designation and a diagnostic account for the centipede, Scolopendra gigantea L. 1758, with an account of S. galapagoensis Bollman 1889 (Chilopoda Scolopendromorpha Scolopendridae)". Tropical Zoology 13 (1): 159–170.
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- Media related to Scolopendra gigantea at Wikimedia Commons