No one likes to see the words “giant” and “venomous” preceding the word “insect,” but sometimes, as in the case of the newly discovered giant, venomous centipede, it just fits.
And it swims, too.
Scientists have recently discovered the world’s first known amphibious centipede, the Guardian reports, and it grows up to an astounding length of 20 centimeters — or eight inches long. And it packs an “excruciating bite.”
Want to go swimming?
Scientists have named the eight-inch-long aquatic centipede with the excruciating, venomous bite “scolopendra cataracta,” from the Latin for “waterfall,” presumably because the Latin term for “really big, creepy thing with too many legs and a poisonous bite that swims” was too clunky. The centipede has been found in Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.
The centipede was actually first seen by George Beccaloni, an entomologist who happened to be on his honeymoon and who obviously didn’t know how to leave his work at home. The centipede he first saw and captured was in Thailand, back in 2001, but it has only recently been fully described, in excruciating detail, in the online science journal ZooKeys.
“Wherever I go in the world, I always turn over rocks beside streams, and that’s where I found this centipede, which was quite a surprise,” Beccaloni said to National Geographic in an interview.
“It was pretty horrific-looking: very big with long legs and a horrible dark, greenish-black color.”
So even the bug expert himself admits that the newly-discovered centipede is “horrific-looking.”
Beccaloni explained that when he lifted the rock the centipede was under, it immediately escaped into the stream rather than retreating into the nearby forest. It ran along the bed of the stream, underwater, and then concealed itself again under another rock.
Brave Beccaloni, instead of fleeing while screaming with horror, captured the centipede and put it into a large container of water. He says that the centipede immediately dove to the bottom of the water and “swam powerfully like an eel, with horizontal undulations of its body.”
When he took the centipede out of the container, the water rolled off its body, leaving it totally dry.
Beccaloni knew the centipede was different because centipedes normally stay away from water — like a lot of people after reading about this. He brought his centipede to the Natural History Museum in London, where he works as a curator of orthopteroids, which is a specific order of insects that include crickets and praying mantises.
So far, only four specimens have been found of this poisonous, biting, swimming centipede. One was actually collected in Vietnam back in 1928 and had been held for decades in the Natural History Museum, misidentified as a much more common species. No centipede had ever been seen actually swimming before.
“I would bet this species goes into the water at night to hunt aquatic or amphibious invertebrates,” Beccaloni said.
Centipedes often eat other invertebrates but will also eat snakes and mice. Their small fangs — yes, centipedes have fangs — can pierce human skin for a “non-lethal but agonizing bite.”
After his discovery, Beccaloni wants to study streams in the tropics at night rather than the day.
“People tend to study streams in the tropics during the day, but there is probably a whole other range of interesting amphibious things that come out at night. It would be good to study these streams and their fauna then to see what is actually going on under the cover of darkness.”
Yes. Because the only thing creepier than discovering a giant bug, with fangs, and a venomous bite, that swims would be finding such bug “under the cover of darkness.”
[Image via Shutterstock]