Scientists have filmed giant centipedes eating birds

Scientists have filmed giant centipedes eating birds
Scientists have filmed giant centipedes eating birds

Giant centipede tarantulas were found on the tiny uninhabited Phillip Island, part of the Norfolk group of islands in the South Pacific. The island's population of centipedes Cormocephalus coynei is capable of killing and eating up to 3,700 chicks of seabirds annually.

It was found that the diet of this unique creature, endemic to Phillip Island, consists of an unusually high proportion of vertebrates, including chicks of seabirds. Large seabirds of prey tend to be at the top of the food chain, but new research published in The American Naturalist shows this is not always the case. However, these large carnivorous arthropods can play a very important role in the island ecosystem due to their varied diet. These creatures grow up to 30.5 cm in length and are armed with a potent poison, which is contained in two pincer-like appendages called forcipules. The poison is used to immobilize prey. The body of the scolopendra is protected by strong plates covering each of its segments.

On warm and humid nights, these arthropods single-handedly make their way through the maze of seabird burrows covered with forest floor, navigating in search of prey with the help of a pair of supersensitive antennas. The list of scolopendra victims is very diverse - from crickets to chicks of seabirds, geckos and skinks. They even eat the fish dropped by the black bowing terns Anous minuta - seabirds that nest in the higher trees.

Scientists have filmed the process of hunting scolopendra for chicks of the black-winged typhoon Pterodroma nigripennis, having spent several months on this project. There are up to 19 thousand nesting pairs of black-winged typhoons on the island, and scolopendra, most likely, cannot cause serious harm to this colony.

When hunting vertebrates, centipedes assimilate the nutrients obtained by seabirds in the ocean and distribute them around the island, feeding the plants. In a sense, they have taken the place (or ecological niche) of predatory mammals, which are not on this island.

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