Common Centipede - December 2021
There are places outdoors in Otley that don't succumb to the life-numbing cold. Leaves that gather under hedges are still teeming with life. Decomposition and the heat it produces make these special places, insulated and protected from the elements under a crispy duvet. Which means invertebrates still abound there, this explains why the Blackbird continues to toss around the leaves at this time of year. The Common centipede is among the most impressive resident of this musty microclimate, but it should be noted they have just 15 pairs of legs, which gives them 30 legs in total, not 100!
Common centipedes have long, thin, brownish-red bodies with large antennae. They also have elongated back legs that almost resemble a second pair of antennae. There are 57 known species of centipede native to the UK, the common centipede measures up to 3 cm in length and is one of the largest centipede species in the UK. Which is minuscule compared to the largest centipede in the world, the Amazonian giant centipede that reaches more than 30 cm in length, imagine that coming out of the leaf litter in your garden!
Common centipedes are predators, eating a range of insects and invertebrates. Spiders, slugs, worms and flies may all be on the menu, making them a gardener's friend. The centipede catches their prey using specially adapted front legs. These legs have evolved to resemble fangs and contain venom that allows the centipede to overpower its prey. Common centipedes can walk backwards almost as quickly as they can walk forwards. They will spend the day hidden within the soil or dark places such as under stones, dead wood and bark. Once night falls, they will emerge to hunt for prey, living in dark places and feeding by night, centipedes rely on antennae rather than eyesight.
Merry Christmas from Wildlife Friendly Otley and Common centipedes! Did you know, they leave the egg with seven pairs of legs, and each time they moult; they develop additional body segments with a new pair of legs on each, until they reach the maximum 15 pairs. Each leg is slightly longer than the one in front so that is doesn't trip. Their body is flat, perfect for fitting beneath cool stones to avoid being eaten by birds or toads. They may live for as long as five to six years, seeing six Christmases! That's a long time for an invertebrate!