Some of the most curious denizens of Kieran’s terrariums are incredibly long, slender soil centipedes, or geophilomorphs. These rarely seen creatures, which have, depending on their species, from 31 to 181 pairs of legs (always an odd number; this one has 43), live out their lives in the soil, eating … well experts aren’t sure exactly what they eat! Time to break out that dusty copy of J.G.E. Lewis’ The biology of centipedes on your bookshelf and study the literature. Some people think they eat earthworms — this was the oldest hypothesis, dating back to Newport and Wood in the 19th Century. But no one’s sure, as they are hard to observe and behave abnormally in a laboratory, where they will eat things like fruit flies. They’ve been seen eating pillbugs and beetle larvae, but even so, Lewis leaves the issue open, saying, “It would appear that plant material is unimportant as a food item to many geophilomorphs but is an aspect of their feeding biology that requires further investigation.” So they may also eat plants.

Get cracking, would-be naturalists. There’s still plenty of undiscovered country in the land of science.

This one took a chomp at my finger today — it’s the largest geophilomorph we have, with a formidable pair of fangs — but though it hurt a bit, it didn’t break my skin. But it wasn’t trying to eat me! Just to get me to let it go!

Soil centipedes are curious creatures who always have an odd number of pairs of legs, from 31 to 181.

Soil centipedes are curious creatures who always have an odd number of pairs of legs, from 31 to 181.

Not only can they walk and run with so many legs, they are equally comfortable moving forward or backward.

Not only can they walk and run with so many legs, they are equally comfortable moving forward or backward.

So much to learn, so little time!

So much to learn, so little time!

Lithobiomorph, or stone centipede, on the left, and Scutigera on the right.

Lithobiomorph, or stone centipede, on the left, and house centipede Scutigera on the right.

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