Ethmostigmus rubripes Click to enlarge image
Giant Centipede, Ethmostigmus rubripes Image: Andrew Donnelly
© Australian Museum

Fast Facts

  • Classification
    Species
    rubripes
    Genus
    Ethmostigmus
    Subfamily
    Otostigminae
    Family
    Scolopendridae
    Super Family
    Scolopendroidea
    Order
    Scolopendromorpha
    Subclass
    Pleurostigmophora
    Class
    Chilopoda
    Subphylum
    Uniramia
    Phylum
    Arthopoda
    Kingdom
    Animalia
  • Size Range
    16 cm

Introduction

This is the largest native Australian centipede and is a member of the scolopendrid family. The largest centipede in the world, Scolopendra gigantea, is a 30 cm centipede from South America that is able to eat mice and lizards.

Identification

The Giant Centipede ranges in colour from dark blue-green-brown to orange-yelllow. It has black bands along the body and yellow legs and antenna. The body is long and flatterned with 25 or 27 body segments and 21 or 23 pairs of legs. The first pair of legs behind the head are modified claws which curve around its head and can deliver venom into its prey. The venom is toxic to both mammals and insects, but does not appear to be strong enough to kill large animals quickly.

Habitat

The Giant Centipede can be found in both dry and moist habitats, usually in sheltered places such as under logs,in leaf litter, soil, under rocks and bark in urban areas, forests, woodlands, heath, rainforests and deserts. It is solitary, terrestrial and a nocturnal predator.

Distribution

The Giant Centipede is found throughout Australia.

Feeding and diet

The Giant Centipede feed on insects, snails and worms.

Other behaviours and adaptations

Giant Centipedes are nocturnal, during the day they hide in damp, sheltered places and during the night, when the relatively humidity is high, they hunt their prey.

Breeding behaviours

Females lay their eggs in clusters, usually in summer and autumn. She guards the eggs and hatchlings till after their second moult.

Danger to humans

A Giant Centipede may bite if disturbed or handled, the bite may cause severe pain that could persist for several days, however no deaths have been recorded from the bite of any Australian centipede. Pain can be relieved somewhat by the application of icepacks. Some people report "intense pain" while others claim it is no worse than a wasp sting. Seek medical attention if symptoms persist.

Further reading

  • Koch, L.E (1983) A taxonomic study of the centipede genus Ethmostigmus Pocock (Chilopoda: Scolopendridae: Otostigminae) in Australia. Aust. J. Zool. 31:835-849
  • Colloff, M.J., Hastings, A. M., Spier, F. and Devonshire, J. (2005). Centipedes of Australia. Canberra, CSIRO Entomology and Australian Biological Resources Study.