Giant centipedes can be found in a number of habitats around the globe, but none are as impressive Scolopendra gigantea, also known as the Amazonian giant. It is the largest centipede species in the world, stretching to over 30 centimeters (12 inches) in length, and has an appetite to match.
With powerful venom, these giant centipedes have evolved into bat-hunting specialists. His skills were laid out in a 2005 paper to reveal S. gigantea there used to be three species of bats in Venezuela: Mormoops megalophylla, Pteronotus davyiand Leptonycteris curosae.
Even as the world’s largest centipedes, it’s an amazing feat. Bats are fast moving prey for the sake of it S. gigantea represent a meal that is much larger than themselves, but they have come up with two killer tactics to bring them down.
Like mine spiders, giant centipedes love a cave, and S. gigantea part of scooting up cave walls and ceilings to reach bats. Amazingly, they can even catch flying bats in mid-air by hanging them from the ceiling of the cave and biting any unlucky victims that strike within range.
Like mine spiders, the world’s largest centipedes love a good cave.
The second skill that makes them skilled bat assassins is their ability to defeat large prey thanks to powerful venom. Centipedes are famous for having a pair of legs for each body segment, but the first pair is on the cranial segment modification in pincer-like instruments called forcipul or “poison claws”, which they use to inject prey with venom, such as flying bats.
The details of the massive centipede predation events on bats paint a picture of the lovable fate that awaits their prey.
“On 21 December 2000, at 21:45 h, we received a S. gigantea located from the ceiling of [a cave] entrance, while feeding on the dead M. megalophylla,” explained the authors of a 2005 paper. The giant centipede “was attached to the ceiling by only its last five pairs of legs, the bat kept using its first eight pairs of legs (not including the forciples, or claws), and fed while moving his head from side to side. “
You can see a photo of the impressive maneuver here.
“The centipede started eating around the bat’s neck, continued into the chest, and then into the abdominal region. When we collected both specimens, the centipede ate about 35% of the bat’s body mass.”
Giant centipedes are clearly a major threat to bats, snakes, and other small vertebrates, but what about humans? Do we have anything to worry about from the world’s largest centipede?
The short answer is yes, but probably not death. Centipede bites can cause pain, swelling, tissue death, and infections that are considered clinically significant in humans. However, they are unlikely to be fatal unless you develop a secondary infection or anaphylaxis.
The potential of sclopendromorph centipede venom was highlighted in a 2021 study which showed that it contains weaponry in the form of toxic proteins borrowed from bacteria and fungi. This type of interspecies trade occurs through a phenomenon called “horizontal gene transfer,” and facilitates the movement of genetic material between long-related organisms.
The discovery marked “the largest, most diverse contribution from sources of horizontal gene transfer to the evolution of animal venom composition known to date,” co-author Dr Ronald Jenner of the Natural History Museum, London, explained to IFLScience .
So, if you are ever lucky enough to see the world’s largest centipede, we recommend that you stay very respectful. Your strange index finger is no match for the venomous claws of a giant centipede.