Friday, September 28, 2012

A single-animal stampede ....

I started digging the vegetable garden this afternoon but didn't get very far because I found this fine specimen of the centipede Haplophilus subterraneus curled up under a plant root. This is probably the longest garden species in Britain, although you wouldn't think so when it's coiled up in a ball like this.

When it unwound itself and began to run I'd estimate that it must have been close to three inches long. Ground-living centipedes have an aversion to light even though they have no eyes and this one instantly headed for a dark crevice (that's the head at the bottom). The last pair of legs are modified into touch-sensitive antennae-like structures that provide the animal with some information about what's going on way back in that final segment.

It's difficult to photograph these because they only come to rest when they are in contact with something above and below their body - when they are in a tunnel or under a stone for example. Despite their name, no centipede has exactly 100 legs. The books say this one has 83 pairs (seems reasonable, it was moving too fast to count them), so when it runs that's 166 feet stampeding - a wonderful feat of coordinating feet movements.


  1. Mixed feelings about this. I would sort of like to have seen it too - and sort of wouldn't.

  2. Hi Graeme, I particularly like the wave of movement in millipede legs - reminds me of a Hollywood movie chorus line of dancers ..

  3. Must admit I wouldn't fancy one crawling up my leg Lucy ...