What’s This?

What big fangs you have! Or, are they fangs?…Can you guess what sort of an organism you are seeing in this image? Here is a hint, this venomous invertebrate has many more legs than you can see here.

If you guessed a centipede, you are correct!

Photo: SPES

This centipede was found hiding under leaf litter in Stanley Park. Centipedes, like the one pictured, are one of the amazing invertebrates (no backbone) living in British Columbia. There are around 3000 species of centipede, which can have between 30 – 346 legs. These nocturnal hunters use a paralyzing venom which is injected into their prey, typically insect, slugs, worms and in some places lizards and mice. As you may have guessed from the title of this article, the ‘fangs’ they use for injecting venom are not actually fangs. In reality these ‘fangs’ are modified legs. The legs on the first segment of the centipedes body have been specialized into hollow tubes with perforated ends, enclosing two venom sacs which are used as fangs. You can see these ‘fangs’ in the image curving around  and under the head of the centipede.

Lucky for British Columbians we have relatively small centipedes, with small enough fangs that usually cannot break human skin. In tropical regions centipedes can get much larger, sometimes reaching over 15 cm long,  and can give a nasty bite similar to a bee sting.

By Jeannine Johnstone, Environmental Educator