What is red, has many legs and a painful bite? I don’t know, but it is probably on your back right now

Posted: August 20, 2013 in Arthropods

Hello, and welcome again to another episode of Horrific Animals of the World! I hope many of you have already gone travelling, met exotic people and not gotten attacked by horrible animals. If you were attacked, I hope at no point did you use this blog as any sort of guide on what to do. If you did, you are likely reading this from an intensive care ward and I shall have to engage the services of a solicitor.

As most of you will suspect, I lead a life utterly devoid of excitement or adventure. Therefore, I spend a surprising amount of time on Wikipedia, and the other day I learnt there is such a thing called ‘coulophobia’, or ‘fear of clowns’ – although the term does not appear in any actual pyschology textbook. This was useful information, and I paused only to send various pictures of clowns to one of my coulophobic friends before I went on a page entitled ‘List of Phobias’.

We’re unsure where this phobia came from, but it might have something to do with the time a psychotic clown broke into his family home and ate his parents.

Well, it turns out there are literally hundreds. You can be gephyrophobic, or have an intense fear of bridges; hylophobic, or afraid of wood, or uranophobic, or afraid of heaven. If you are reading this blog, you are unlikely to have that particular phobia, partially because no one reading this will ever go there. Some ‘phobias’ listed, however, do not seem like ‘phobias’. For example, one can apparently be thanatophobic, agraphobic or algophobic, but personally I cannot see what is so irrational about fearing death, sexual abuse, or pain. (Insert tasteless joke here. Ed.)

Now, you may be wondering what this has to do with Horrific Animals of the World. The answer is that there is no phobia specific to centipedes. One can be arachnophobic, opidiophobic or entophobic, (spiders/arachnids, snakes and insects respectively) but there is nothing about being, say, chilopodaphobic, or irrationally afraid of centipedes.

And this is strange, when one considers the giant centipede, Scolopendra gigantea, or ‘Giant Centipede’. This weird and evidently none phobia causing beastie lives in the north of South America, such as Venezuela and Trinidad, and the islands offshore. It can reach lengths of around 30cm, which for any creepy crawly, centipede or not, is about 25cm too long, and is a glossy orange-brown colour. Like all centipedes it is divided into segments, and each segment has one pair of legs on it. Thus, if you are ever in Colombia or thereabouts, and you feel what seems like a hundred little legs on your neck, your day might be about to get even worse.

Things can always get worse. (Photocredit: Wikimedia Commons)

Now, why should this animal cause phobias? Well, firstly it feeds, as Wikipedia helpfully notes, on pretty much whatever it can kill – so other invertebrates, mice, rats, snakes, frogs and suchlike are all fair game. Even more ominously, they have also been seen snatching bats from mid-air; hanging from a cave roof by their bottom sets of legs like Satan’s Christmas decorations until a nearby bat flies past. Using its antennae to detect air distubances, it swings out and catches a bat flying past, injecting it with enough venom to kill (Molinari et al 2005, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UROVfmY3NTA).

Who needs ‘nightmare free sleep’ anyway? (Photocredit http://arthropoda.wordpress.com/2009/12/04/giant-bat-eating-centipedes/, which is like this blog but better.

So firstly, these centipedes hunt bats in pitch dark caves, which aside from anything else seems like an inspiration for any insane criminal in Gotham city. More to the point, these animals are also capable of delivering a painful (though rarely fatal – only one death is on record) sting, which causes intense pain (according to one account, rather like having your hand plunged into boiling water), sickness, dizziness and swelling. The venom contains serotonin, a cardiodepressant called ‘Toxin S’ and proteases. Fortunately, although the bite is painful, the wound usually heals with little works required from doctors (indeed, one person managed to get themselves stung by a giant centipede 3 times in the paper cited below) and it is estimated that it would take around 1000 venom glands from these centipedes to kill a healthy adult male (http://caribjsci.org/aug05/41_340-346.pdf). Lets just hope they never hear about ‘teamwork’.

“There’s no I in Team Centipede” (Photocredit Wikimedia Commons)

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