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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Giant Centipedes in Hong Kong

Last night along what I will call an inlet of Junk Bay in Kowloon, Hong Kong, I noticed something peculiar scurrying in front me. I quickly realized it was a giant centipede:

A giant Malaysian Cherry Red Centipede (Scolopendra subspinipes dehaani) in Hong Kong, China

It was easily at least 8 inches long, not counting its antennae or the extended rear legs. I later saw two more and one of them looked to be at least 10 inches (25 cm) long -- huge. Although I had seen videos of such monstrosities, I had never before seen one in person. And wow... they're impressive (and fast). I wish I had more photos or even a video, but my camera's battery ran out at that point.

Various online sources about centipedes have a bit of conflicting information, but based upon coloring and number of body segments the above centipede is a member of the Vietnamese Centipede (Scolopendra subspinipes) species and is the Malaysian Cherry Red Centipede (Scolopendra subspinipes dehaani) subspecies. According to Wikipedia, the Vietnamese Centipede:
..is an aggressive and nervous arthropod which is ready to strike if interfered with and is sensitive to vibrations nearby. It preys primarily on insects or other sizable predatory arthropods (like spiders). Sometimes, mice and small reptiles or amphibians are also on its menu if it is large enough to overpower such vertebrates. It will take almost everything that is not longer than itself. During a fight, the centipede will use its entire body coiling the prey or enemy with its legs firmly attaching to the body of the opponent. Then, it will quickly penetrate its forcipules into the victim for venom injection.
Although I had been known to pick up wild snakes in my younger days, I had no such inclination with these centipedes. Centipede bites are reportedly not uncommon in rural areas of Hong Kong. Their bites are painful and the venom can lead to symptoms requiring treatment at a hospital if there is an allergic reaction -- in one very rare case in the Philippines a child died.

If you are now intrigued about giant centipedes, you can watch a video by National Geographic (warning: cheesy narration) here, a brief video from Cheung Chau, Hong Kong here, and a video of a giant centipede capturing and eating a mouse here (not for mouse lovers). For those who root for the mice, watch a video (with a somewhat bizarre kung fu section) of a grasshopper mouse defeating a giant centipede here.

Finally, if you have a fear of giant centipedes (or are now developing one), do not let it dissuade you from coming to Hong Kong. They only come out at night and seem to be restricted to non-urban settings. Hong Kong has plenty of urban settings, so you can feel at ease. Based on the reactions of the Hongkongers passing by, seeing a giant centipede was an unusual experience for most of them.

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