Creatures of the Amazon
The Amazonian Giant Centipede

By Mike Collis
The Amazon rainforest is teeming with life and there are more species of insects there than the rest of the world combined. Some of these insects grow to enormous sizes like the dinner plate sized tarantula which was featured earlier in this collection. The tarantula is venomous but not too dangerous unlike the Amazonian giant centipede which is not only very venomous but is extremely bad tempered.

Scolopendra gigantea, is the latin name the Peruvian giant yellow-leg centipede or Amazonian giant centipede, and is among the largest centipedes of the genus Scolopendra growing up to 12 in or more. It can be found in various places throughout South America and the Caribbean, where it preys on a variety of animals including insects, other sizable amphibians, arthropods , reptiles and mammals.

Like other members of the genus scolopendra the body of this creature has 21 or 23 well-marked sections with each section having a pair of legs. Its legs are designed for fast attacks during hunting or for fast retreats when it is attacked. Its head is protected by a flat shield and has two antennae. Two modified legs with sharp claws ( forcipules) are also on its head and these are the weapons used by these voracious hunters to kill their prey or defend themselves. The forcipules are used to penetrate the victims bodies and inject a strong venom. This centipede has poor eyesight and it is virtually blind so it relies highly on touch and its chemoreceptors. The centipede breathes through the round, triangular openings found along the sides of its body which connect to trachea.

This centipede is nervous and jumpy. It is carnivorous and very aggressive, feeding on almost everything it comes across. It is capable of overpowering not only insects or other invertibrates, but also vertibrates including frogs, lizards, mice, snakes, birds, and even bats. They take frogs and toads up to 4 in. Snakes up to 12 in long, birds as big as sparrows, and various types of mice and small rats. They have a very interesting way to catch bats. They climb cave walls to the ceiling and wait for a passing bat. When the prey is close enough the centipede lunges out while holding onto the cave wall with its rear legs and grabs the bat. Then they hold and manipulate their prey with just a few legs attached to the ceiling. When attacking its prey on the ground the centipede will use all of its body to encoil its prey and will use all of its legs to grasp the body of its victim.

The venom of Scolopendra gigantea is very potent, containing acetylcholine, histamine and seratonin (pain mediators), proteases and a cardiodepressant factor. These chemicals can kill most small animals and are very toxic to humans. An attack on a human, normally in self defence can cause severe pain, chills, swelling, fever and fatigue. When the centipede attacks a human is most unlikely to cause death except when the victim is allergic to the venom.

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