Scientists Discover New Amphibious Species of Centipede

A team of biologists from Japan has discovered a new species of the genusScolopendra living in the forests of the Ryukyu Archipelago and Taiwan. Scolopendrais a genus of large tropical centipedes in the family Scolopendridae.  It includes around 100 species distributed worldwide, especially in tropical and subtropical territories, such as Southeast Asia, North Africa, the Mediterranean, and North or Central America. All members of the genus are active predators, feeding primarily on insects and other invertebrates. As is well known, they are poisonous, and their venom is highly toxic to vertebrates including humans, which can cause intense pain and edema.

In Japan and Taiwan, five species were known until now: Scolopendra morsitans, S. subspinipes, S. mutilans, S. japonica, and S. multidens. Named Scolopendra alcyona, the newly-discovered species can be found in the forests of Taiwan and Japan’s Ryukyu Archipelago. “It is also the first new centipede to be identified in Japan in 143 years,” said lead author Sho Tsukamoto of Tokyo Metropolitan University and colleagues.

Scolopendra alcyona found underwater at the upper reach of Shirase River, Kume-jima Island. Image credit; H. Sato.

The fact that such a large invertebrate could go undiscovered until now is a reflection of the unexplored biodiversity of the Ryukyu Archipelago, and a strong case for its preservation.  Scolopendra alcyona has a beautiful jade-colored shell, and measures 20 cm in length and 2 cm in width, making it largest centipede species in Japan and Taiwan. The new species prefers streamside environments and hunts giant freshwater prawns. It exhibits amphibious behavior, making it only the third amphibiousScolopendra species in the world. “Scolopendra alcyona is most likely endangered, and currently inhabits forest streams where people do not go,” the scientists said.

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