A Native New Zealand Centipede

Meeting the Garden Residents

In between our ecology work, we’ve been doing a lot of gardening for people. It’s great being outdoors and fossicking around in the undergrowth, doing our part for the War on Weeds!

Recently, whilst weeding one of these gardens in residential Whanganui, we came across this beautiful centipede. It was about 4cm in length, and bared its forcipules AKA ‘fangs’ when we disturbed it under a log in the flowerbed. The blue antennae were stunning, so we took the chance for a quick photo-shoot.

A Native Centipede: Order Scolopendromorpha

After checking out the ‘Guide to New Zealand Soil Invertebrates’ website, it looks like our centipede belongs to the order Scolopendromorpha.

Scolopendromorpha always have twenty-one pairs of legs, which our specimen does. This order also includes the world’s largest centipedes, with some tropical forms reaching over 25 cm in length. Whilst most native New Zealand scolopendromorphs are not longer than 5 cm in length, the giant NZ Cormocephalus rubriceps can reach over 16 cm!

Native NZ Centipede (Scolopendromorpha)

Click to zoom in

Name that Multi-legged Creature

Next time you’re gardening, keep a lookout for our multi-legged friends. Here’s a quick run-through of what you might find, and how to tell the difference between them:

Centipedes (class Chilopoda) are part of the subphylum of arthropods called Myriapoda. Myriapoda also contains millipedes (class Diplopoda),  pseudocentipedes AKA garden centipedes (class Symphyla),  and the pauropods (class Pauropoda). As you might have guessed from the name, Myriapods have many legs (ranging from over 750 legs to having fewer than ten legs).

Centipedes are fast, predatory and venomous, hunting mostly at night. Millipedes, on the other hand, are not venomous and feed on leaf litter and detritus. Most millipedes are also slower than centipedes. One of the best ways to tell the difference between the two is to look at how many pairs of legs they have per segment: Centipedes have one pair, millipedes have two. Or, to be more accurate, millipedes appear to have two as each pair of body segments is fused into a single unit, giving the appearance of having two pairs of legs per segment.

Symphylans resemble centipedes, but are smaller and translucent, and only distantly related to true centipedes. They consume decaying vegetation, but can also eat seeds, roots, and root hairs in cultivated soil.

Pauropods are small, pale, millipede-like arthropods which live in soil and leaf mould. They look rather like centipedes, but are most likely the sister group to millipedes.

Happy critter-finding, everyone!

Native NZ Centipede (Scolopendromorpha)

Click to zoom in

References and Further Reading

Chilopoda (Centipedes) –  http://www.earthlife.net/insects/chilopod.html
(Retrieved 04 January 2017)

Guide to New Zealand Soil Invertebrates – Chilopoda   http://soilbugs.massey.ac.nz/chilopoda.php
(Retrieved 04 January 2017)

Wikipedia – Myriapoda –  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myriapoda
(Retrieved 04 January 2017)

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