From Millipdes and Centipdes in the Philippines
The phylum of the arthropods collects besides insects, spiders and cancers the classes of millipedes (Diplopoda) and Centipedes (Chilopoda). Some species of millipedes and centipedes can also be found in the moderate climatic zones of Europe and America. However, the tropical zones – including the Philippines - are the main area of distribution, where the majority of species can be found.
The person, who is staying longer in the country, has a high chance to meet our mostly brown- blackish “chaps”. Most of them are harmless for man. Nevertheless they are every time good for a panic reaction because of their strange appearance. There are some species, however, which require utmost caution, because the physical contact can cause a lot of pains.
Let’s turn first to the more harmless class of the millipedes. Beforehand, we should mention, that none of the 11,000 species of millipedes has exactly 1000 feet, as the name indicates it. The number of pairs of legs could be from 9 to 340. Most millipedes have less than 50 pairs. Its fully-grown size is between 0.2 cm and 37 cm. Nevertheless in Thuringia / Germany an extinct giant millipede was excavated, which lived 296 million years ago and showed a size from more than two meters.
The elongated and wormlike body shows a more or less strongly segmented protective coat from chitin with lime storages. A distinctive mark to the class of the centipede is the fact, that each body segments has two pairs of legs, except the head segment. The maximum life time expectance is round about seven years, but the dried chitin coat of dead animals can exist far longer. The head shows two eyes and two short feelers. Between the body segments there are glands which produce in case of danger a secretion smelling unpleasant. Some people give the advice to wash the hands after contact with a centipede, because the secretion shouldn't reach the eyes. Centipedes move in a wavelike way. Normally, no more than three leg pairs are slowly moving at the same time - the number of the movement impulses is rather low, there has only to be the correct order. In case of rest and danger millipedes tend to coil up to a spiral to protect particularly the head part.
Millipedes are mainly brownish. But Gaulke particularizes that the 54 species of millipedes known in the Philippines show often colour differences from island to island. So one species of millipede on Luzon shows brightly yellow legs and a red body surface. “Most obvious is the species Spirobolus, which can be found in whole South East Asia. It is up to 30 cm long and more than one cm thick. They are numerous in the Philippines and live "almost in every primary and secondary wood where they hide rolled up under leaves and dead man wood. Some are also active during the daylight." (1)
Millipedes live primarily on decomposing plant material and organic and prefer dark and damp places. It is told that they are passionate lovers. At the mating males and females embrace themselves for hours. But still there are not discovered as aphrodisacia - may be because of odour. The females can produce up to 300 eggs.
Sometimes centipedes penetrate into the house. Here they prefer particularly damp, dark places filled with organic material. They don't represent a greater danger, however, but perhaps an outrage. If they are mashed, the spots can be relatively resistant.
The name of the worldwide known 2700 species of centipedes (Tagalog name: Alupihan) can also misunderstand able also the considerably The number of pairs of legs , which are hook like and on which they move relatively fast, varies between 14 and 191 (Gonibregmatus plurimipes, on the Fiji islands). The last pair of legs of the species house centipede is more than twice the body length of the female. The length of adults is in between 2.5 cm and 30 cm. They have a broader spectrum of colour: grey-yellowish, orange, dark and reddish brown skin colourings can be found. Sometimes there are transverse stripes. The strongly segmented body is more flat in comparison with the millipede. It is an important discrimination feature that only one pair of legs per segment can to be found at centipedes.
The clear cut head has a pair of very long segmented antennae. The upper jaw has strong teeth. The front pair of legs – immediately behind the head - is modified into poisonous jaws. They secrete a deadening poison in case of defence or attack. Centipedes aren't vegetarians; their spoils are primarily insects and worms in damp, dark habitats. Some species use the last back pair of legs for holding the preys in place.
Some species of centipede can tend to cannibalism. Is this the reason that at some species the mating goes off without mutual touch? In these cases the female takes from the ground only a seed package, which the male has put down before. There are species, which lay eggs – other give birth to live larvae. The young larvae – so for instance the house centipede – have only four pairs of legs, but the number of pair of legs is increasing with each shedding of the skin. Centipedes can reach an age of nearly six years.
About 44 species of centipedes are known in the Philippines. Here we refer only to the relatively shy, long-legged house centipede (Scutigerida) and to the bigger Scolopendra species. The shady house centipede lives normally outside of dwellings, it can, however, wander inside. It is also local in Europe and America and reaches a body length of about 2.5 cm. The skin colouring is grey-yellow. Particularly its 15 pairs of longer legs can frighten. They allow a high running speed, which is often interrupted by "inexplicable" breaks. The house centipede can climb up walls or can hide in clothes. Very often it is seen basins in the early morning trapped in bathtubs and wash. The house centipede has also venom glands. With their help it can kill cockroaches and spiders or other little insects in the house at a nightly hour. But in general opinion it is rather harmless to man. Mostly the poison claws are mostly too small and too weak to penetrate the human skin. If there is nevertheless a bite, it resembles more a bee sting. It doesn't attack any food and doesn't destroy any furniture either. It’s more the “unpleasant” appearance which causes the feelings of disgust. Prevention of house centipedes includes the removal of waste and garbage in the surroundings of the sealing of rips and joints in the outer wall. If they have entered the house, the use of insecticides is recommended.
However, there are warnings with regard to the giant runners or Scolopendra species, which can also be found in the Philippines and which reaches a length of over 25 cm. Hanewald is writing that the bite is “not absolutely mortal but enough to make you cry because of pains " (2) .We can specify this remark by adding that the Philippines until now know only one case, ending with the death of a twelve-year-old girl after a Scolopendra bite (3). The intensive pains are accompanied by swellings, redness, deafness feelings, headaches and nausea. But – thanks God – the pains disappear after some hours. It is recommended not to touch these bigger centipedes. If it should be necessary to grasp them, it is advisable to grasp them directly behind the head, because the body is very bendy. Hanewald recommends the following precautions: "Always do examine shoes, clothes, tents for reptiles. Have unshakable patience if something is crawling" (4). When there is a bite, the bleeding should not be stopped. Later the wound should be cleaned for instance with an ammonium liquid. The swelling goes down if cool compresses are applied. Some grass doctors give the advice, to spread the wound with the saliva of a rooster. We don’t know if this is a real remedy. If the pain shouldn't ease after 10-12 hours, the consultation of a doctor is recommended. Scolopendra species have also been a scourge for the American soldiers in the Pacific war.
In 1998 the Philippine Dr. Liewell discovered that a certain protein of the centipede is a suitable test substance to detect the toxic substance Saxitoxin. Saxitoxin can be found in poisoned shellfish. It causes worldwide hundred of dead people every year (5). Now and then grilled centipedes are used in popular medicine against asthma.
In the Philippine fairytale centipedes are sometimes silent listener in the house (7). Besides many opponents there exists also a very small group of enthusiasts of centipedes, which domesticate the insects in containers. In Germany we have an internet-forum which deals exclusively with the breeding of scolopendras (8). May be that you are still anxious and you prefer first the virtual dealing with centipedes. Then perhaps Atari offers a help for you. Atari published in 1998 a 3D-game with the title "Centipede".
A riddle at the end: Which very well-known person in the Philippines is congenial with the millipede? …. You are right; it is the "Queen of Shoes", Imelda Marcos, who allegedly left 3,000 pairs of shoes when she has to escape from the government palace Malacanang.
(1) Maren Gaulke, Philippinen Naturreiseführer, 2001, p. 209
(2) Roland Hanewald, Philippinen Abenteuer-Handbuch, p. 57
(3) http://www.hgttv.com/hgtv/gl_diseases-pests insects/article/0,1785th HGTV_3580_1396026, 00th HTML
(4) Roland Hanewald, Philippinen Abenteuer-Handbuch, p. 58
(5) cf.: http://www.aims.gov.au/news/pages/media release 991222. HTML
(6) Ambeth R. Ocampo: Folk remedies, in: http:// www.inq7.net/opi/2004/feb/25/opi_arocampo 1. htm
(7) For example the fairytale: "Gawigawen of Adasan” in:
© W. Bethge, 2005