The world has many moist, warm, and dark cavities where phobia-inspiring organisms quietly lurk. The tropical climate of South America’s Amazon jungle has an unnaturally large number of such pockets, and consequently that region is home to unnaturally large specimens.

One such example is the Scolopendra gigantea, a venomous, red-maroon centipede with forty-six yellow-tinted legs. These centipedes are the largest in the world, and they are more commonly known as Amazonian giant centipedes due to their massive size. Adults commonly reach lengths of over thirty-five centimeters— the length of a man’s forearm. Not only are these creatures very swift runners, but they are also highly adept climbers, a skill which allows them to scale walls to enjoy some surprisingly ambitious prey.

<i>Scolopendra gigantea</i> preparing to attack a mouse
Scolopendra gigantea preparing to attack a mouse

Centipedes in general are carnivorous, though this term usually refers to a diet of smaller bugs or scavenged remains. The Amazonian giant centipede, however, creeps out at night to stalk even larger victims. Groping through the darkness with its long antennae, the centipede will make a meal out of any number of unsuspecting small animals, including lizards, frogs, birds, and mice. With one quick motion the S. gigantea snags its prey and injects an extremely potent venom. The animal is dead after a very brief, thrashing struggle, allowing the centipede to gorge itself on the catch.

But the natural hunter’s most impressive skill is that which is demonstrated inside the caves of the Amazon jungle. In an environment completely devoid of light, the centipede scurries across the damp floor, stepping over writhing mounds of beetles to scale the wall and clamber across the ceiling into a position near the center. The giant centipede then grips the stone with it rear legs, allowing its forward segments to dangle into the cave below. Its front section sways as its legs wriggle through the air in search of the intended target: a passing bat.

Giant centipede eating a captured bat
Giant centipede eating a captured bat

The fast-flying bats have little warning of the centipede’s presence, and within moments one is snatched from the air in mid-flight. The S. gigantea’s toxic venom works quickly as the bat hopelessly attempts to squirm from the grasp of many legs, only to succumb to the poison seconds later. There, dangling from the cave ceiling, the centipede eats every scrap of flesh from its prey over the period of about an hour. It then pulls itself back up to the ceiling and climbs down the wall to return to the dark, damp corner of the cave from whence it came.

These impressive arthropods are not only found in the Amazon jungle, but they also thrive on the islands of Trinidad and Jamaica. They are becoming a favorite among exotic pet owners worldwide, but extreme care must be taken while handling them due to the fact that the slightest trace of the venom can cause a reaction on the skin. Fortunately, the poison from the Scolopendra gigantea is insufficient to kill a healthy human adult. The alarmingly massive centipede can, however, cause symptoms such as local sharp pain, swelling, chills, fever, weakness, and uncontrollable running-away-and-screaming.