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Friday, October 24, 2014

The Japanese Giant Centipede

There are few creatures I am actually afraid of.

Snakes, I don't care for, but have touched and held and had draped over my shoulders. Spiders… I like the amazing and spectacular Spider-man, but hate the actual eight-legged arachnid. While I don't have arachnophobia, I detest them simply because every time I am bitten by one, I get a very nasty reaction ranging from a swelling of a finger or hand, to near-death of flesh as the poison worked its way through my veins. Just hate the bastards.

I also really dislike centipedes (and millipedes).

Basically, I think I hate creatures that naturally lack legs or have more than six.

When I was a teenager, in the basement of my current house I once spied a centipede the length and width of my shoe… I should know, because that's what I used to beat it into submission, by which I mean death.

That puppy was around 11-inches long and perhaps thanks to the viciousness of my assault, I left a stain on the wall for a few months until we all became sickened by it and replaced the wood paneling with drywall. So, something good came from its death.

My basement is a wet basement, which means it is damp… and there are always plenty of critters hiding when I cautiously flick on the lights.

Never seen a cockroach - except in Japan and Thailand… oh… my… god… Thailand… the walls moved…

And while I did see horrible flying and hissing cockroaches in a Japanese ryokan (Japanese-style inn) that Ashley and I once stayed in, I only ever saw two cockroaches in my apartment - one, the day I moved in - it probably thought the place had become abandoned, and upon arriving back in Ohtawara-shi after I went back to Toronto for a two-week vacation… both crawlies paid for their impunity with their lives.

By the way… after that experience at a ryokan, I only ever stayed at good, western-style hotels whenever I traveled about in Japan.

While I did have some of the largest and most ugly-looking spiders I had ever seen live on my apartment's northern balcony (never the western one), not once did I ever see a centipede.

I suppose it's because while I may have turned over a new leaf while in Japan, it was only literally and not physically.

Out of sight, out of mind - it works so well in the bug world, doesn't it Caroline? Who's kidding whom… brave girl that she is that does me the honor of reading this blog, I doubt she would have been able to get past the initial (and only) photograph above.

So… even though I'm afraid I may have lost a reader, let's continue on and take a look at the Japanese centipede… well, one of them anyways.

Man… I hate this topic.

Centipedes in Japanese, are known as Mukade (百足) or the omukade (if we provide it with an honorific).

There are two species of Japan centipede that are of the nasty variety... the Scolopendra subspinipes japonica and the Scolopendra subspinipes mutilans. The Scolopendra subspinipes mutilans is known as the Japanese Giant Centipede... and because I only discovered this centipede was a Japanese one after I write everything below, this blog will instead focus on the obviously Japanese one: the Scolopendra subspinipes japonica.

Okay... let me rephrase all that... there is a lot of conflict in the bug world about what centipede is which. Scientists can tell, but to be honest, I haven't been able to find a clear answer as to what the differences are.

If a centipede scientist wishes to contact me and reveal to me in clear language just what separates the mutilans from the japonica, I'll revise this at a later date will full accreditation. Gauntlet thrown.

In the mean time. Let's pretend that everything is the japonica version and that it is a giant fricking centipede and that I really have a dislike - not fear of bugs, whether they be anthropods or insects.  

The total number of scolopendra subspinipes infraspecies, include:
Scolopendra subspinipes dehaani
Scolopendra subspinipes fulgurans
Scolopendra subspinipes gastroforeata
Scolopendra subspinipes japonica
Scolopendra subspinipes mutilans
Scolopendra subspinipes piceoflava
Scolopendra subspinipes subspinipes
Scolopendra subspinipes cingulatoides

See... wouldn't you just assume that there was only one Japanese sub-species of centipede on that list? Fret not... the Giant isn't much different... and in fact, size and facts below apply to both. 

Before we continue... I should clarify that centipedes are NOT insects - they are arthropods, that is they have an exoskeleton (external skeleton), a segmented body and jointed appendages. Tomaytoe - tomahtoe.

These ugly buggers live all over the world: Antilles, Australia, Vietnam, Thailand, China, India, Malaysia, Java, Borneo, Japan, Brazil, Philippines, Korea, Taiwan, Ryukyu Islands, Saipan, Sulawesi and more… or basically every place in Asia that I have had sex or thought about having sex. Mostly the latter.

With such a vast habitat, quite naturally they have many common names, such as: Chinese Red Head, Giant Centipede, Jungle Centipede, Orange Legged Centipede, Red Headed Centipede and Vietnamese Centipede.

I like redheads - strawberry is my favorite flavor after cinnamon (okay, not really, but why not in this case), but man… these buggies are too nasty to have a crush on, and instead I feel the need to crush upon.

The whole Scolopendra Subspinipes subspecies are known to have the WORST venom of all centipedes, with a bite that matches it in ouchiness.

I'm not sure how, but the centipede is apparently important to medical science - but it is also supposed to be the only centipede to have caused a human death, after one bit a seven-year-old Filipino girl, who died about 28 hours later.

In case you are wondering, all centipedes have venomous bites… your level of discomfort is matched by your level of allergy to it.

Last week while cleaning out the eaves troughs, a tiny orange one bit me on the inner right part of my right index finger causing a bit of minor swelling and a fair bit of itching. Spiders cause me more trouble. Then again… this was no Scolopendra subspinipes japonica.

Like the rest of the subspecies, the Scolopendra subspinipes japonica can grow up to 10-inches in length and live to seven to 10 years. Not if I'm around, of course.

Just like us Kafkaesque humans, they come in a wide range of colors, but most common are the ones that are brown to reddish brown with yellow to yellow-orange legs.

Like other centipedes, they are fast, but are considered to be aggressive - which is not what I want to hear.

Yeah, I know some of you collect bugs, but I like having sex with the opposite sex, so I have no interest in bugs. I know that was harsh.

Look… I have no problem with critters living in areas outside - but in my house or love hotel, I don't want to see them.

Here's the science-stuff:
Like other centipedes of Scolopendra genus, the subspinipes species has 21 body segments, with each segment having one pair of legs attached. That's 42 total legs… hardly the 100 one might expect from a creature incorrectly named centipede.

Want to know how disgusting this centipede is? It has a pair of modified legs (called forcipes) on its head, covered up by a flat shield that has a pair of antennae.

Look… I have a healthy appreciation for legs… especially if they connect to an ass… but despite me having legs on the brain, I don't think it cool that a centipede does.

These killer legs on the Scolopendra subspinipes like the japonica are indeed killers.
The forcipules actually has claws - sharp ones - that are connected to the centipede's venom glands - and as such are what the bug uses to kill things with.

While I may or may not be joking about an innate ability to breath through my ears (someone please love me) (there's an old joke about people being screwed up - feet smell and nose runs), these and all centipedes actually breathe through the openings located along the sides of their bodies.

Let's see… venomous… let's on the head… breathes through its sides… aggressive… creepy… crawly… fast… fugging bugs.

The breathing holes can be round or s-shaped and why that matters, I don't know. They also have crappy vision… I do, too, but I am attuned to bug movement and can only be surprised from behind.

So… like a centipede, I rely not on my eyes, but on touch and on chemoreceptors - the type that make you go 'wow'.

Want to know what it eats? Why not - you're here… basically, it will eat insects, spiders… sometimes mice, small reptiles and amphibians - like holy crap!!! Basically it will eat pretty much anything that is not longer than itself.

It attacks its victims with the prehensile legs at the very rear, then curves its head around to stick its jaw (with venom) in to bite and to hold. It holds it for as long as it takes for the venom to kill the victim - which isn't long, because it is a fast-acting venom.

If it has a fight on its hands, the centipede will coil its entire body around the victim, with its legs acting as anchors all around the victim's body - and then it injects the venom.  

What a nasty creature. I will kill all centipedes I see.

For reproduction, the Scolopendra subspinipes japonica males deposit capsules containing sperm into the spermathecae of the female. She fertilizes the eggs - anywhere between 50 to 80 eggs and lays them in a dark, safe area. She will then protect the eggs until they hatch - right up until their first molting.

These Scolopendra subspinipes japonica molt once a year, and will, unless I am around, reach adulthood in about three years - maybe four. Adults will continue to molt once a year throughout its life. 

So… what is in this Scolopendra subspinipes venom? Causing swelling, weakness and/or fever in humans, the venom contains serotonin, haemolytic phospholipase A, a cardiotoxic protein and a cytolysin.

And, because everyone thinks everything can be used in medicine - the Giant Centipede is used in traditional Japanese medicines as part of a cure for cuts and wounds. Not a cure... but a balm... an ointment. You know... to make it heal better... but I would wonder if it really is, or if its just a natural healing process.

Still, sometimes the old ways have incredible value, and I would not want to be accused of being ignorant  

Okay… that's enough… I'm sufficiently grossed out by this topic…. but be warned... I might have to revisit it one more time within the next few days unless talked out of it.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Image is from

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