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British Centipedes have fewer than 100 legs

Posted in Animals, Insects, Nature on Friday, 28 February 2014

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Centipedes and other animals,  picture, image, illustration

Page from The Pictorial Museum of Animated Nature showing centipedes

Under a pile of dead and rotting leaves that have settled on the moist soil in an English garden, a centipede stirs drowsily from its sleep. Using its many pairs of legs to upturn the pile of leaves, it creeps out into the open as soon as night has fallen to search for its food, for strong light can easily kill it. Moving along at lightning speed, the centipede has no difficulty in catching slugs, worms and small insects which are its favourite meals.

It can grip a slug in its two poisonous claws which are like little legs on the first segment of its body near the head. Once the victim is caught, the poisonous liquid flows from the curved, hollow organs of the claws and is injected into the unfortunate prey’s body, instantly paralysing it.

This poison is harmless to man but there are some tropical centipedes which are one foot long, capable of inflicting a painful bite which can cause a fever in human beings.

Centipedes do not always have 100 pairs of legs as their name implies. Some have more than that, while others have only 28.

The flat bodies are made up of many segments joined together and each segment has a pair of legs growing out of it.

The two types of centipede most often seen in English gardens are the lithobius and the geophilus (unfortunately, there are no simple, common names for them). There are two unusual characteristics of these centipedes. The geophilus, which is the larger of the two, being two inches long with 43 pairs of legs, gives out a steady glow when it is alarmed at night, and the lithobius, which is only one inch long with 15 pairs of legs, can live to the ripe old age of six, which is a very good age for a centipede.

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