Although centipedes are typically insectivorous, larger vertebrates are known to attack and eat vertebrates. What has been surprising in a team of biologists in the Sakaerat Biosphere Reserve (Thailand) is to discover for the first time in a casual way how a centipede of the genus Scolopendra, Scolopendra dawydoffi, a species of large dimensions, was having a predatory behavior with a female snake ( Sibynophis triangularis ) while it was laying eggs.
Snakes, in the diet of giant centipedes
This “fortuitous observation” of a centipede attacking a snake is even more disturbing by the fact that the creature chose to attack the right moment when the snake was at its most vulnerable: while laying eggs. It seems that the centipedes feed on snake meat more usually than previously thought.
The genus Scolopendra has a quite varied diet, since we have already seen that apart from insects also some vertebrates. So far, these multi-legged nocturnal creatures have been seen prowling rat nests to hunt the young, hunting lizards, bats, and even birds.
Biologists believe that this behavior is largely opportunistic (when the prey is vulnerable), and not a basic element of the diet of centipedes; hence the attack of a centipede against a snake is quite rare. When Thai scientists found this specimen twisted among the dry leaves of the forest they observed the following:
“The centipede was already wrapped all over the snake’s body , which was caught on the fly, with three eggs already in place, and two apparently still inside its body,” the authors write in the Journal of Insect Behavior.
To keep his victim immobile, the centipede had grasped the serpent with its claw-like legs, and had stung it with its venomous claws (which are often confused with jaws as they are on the head), a special appendage converted in weapon that is characteristic only of the centipedes.
The body of a centipede is extremely mobile and clearly segmented: in each segment there are a pair of legs, which in this species can measure up to 10 centimeters. Because of how elusive they are and the unusual scene, the experts did not disturb the ‘deadly embrace’ but made multiple photographs to identify the species.
What makes this incident so striking is the helpless position of the snake: it was laying eggs.
“We are the first to report a case of this type in which this species attacks a vertebrate while laying eggs,” the team boasted in the report.
As they explain, snake females are more vulnerable during this laying process, so the centipede chose to attack at a particularly opportunistic moment, “taking advantage of a situation from which the animal could not escape.”
Scientists conclude that it is possible for giant centipedes to eat vertebrate prey more often than we assume,