Orange-footed centipede (Cormocephalus aurantiipes)

Scolopendridae is a family of large centipedes, some species like the Amazon giant centipede (Scolopendra gigantea) reaching a foot in length. They are voracious predators, subduing prey by injecting venom through forcipules (mandibulate modified first pair of appendages). Large centipedes feed on a variety of arthropods, lizards, snakes, frogs, and even small mammals and birds. As nocturnal creatures, they hide in moist soil under rocks and logs during the day to prevent desiccation. Scolopendromorphs lack eyes and instead rely on groups of four ocelli on each side of the head for simple light detection, antennae for olfaction, and legs for tactile sensation. Along with geophilomorphs and craterostigmomorphs, some species have parental care in which the mother curls her body around developing eggs and young offspring for protection.

Although some centipedes grow more legs each time they molt, scolopendromorphs such as this orange-footed centipede (Cormocephalus cf. aurantiipes) develop all their legs as embryos and have a fixed number, 21 or 23 pairs of them. Interestingly, centipedes always have an odd number of pairs of legs since segmentation always increases in doubles. In most centipedes, the legs are slightly longer in each segment as you progress toward the caudal region, probably to enhance locomotion and maneuverability. The last pair of legs are thick, elongated, and equipped with two spine-like protrusions for use in defense, prey capture, and mating. The first segment of these enlarged legs is particularly bulky and sclerotized. They seem almost rock-hard to the touch. Even though centipedes have exquisite adaptations in the cephalic region, I always thought the pincer-like last pair of legs were the neatest feature of scolopendromorphs.

Centipedes are often hard to photograph, especially during the day. As soon as I flip a rock they usually bolt immediately. This centipede (~15 cm long) scurried on top of a rock, and I cupped my hands over it. Sensing that it was now in a dark safe space, the centipede let me snap a few quick photos.

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