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Behaviour of the Common Centipede Lithobius forficatus


ALTHOUGH the Chilopoda are a widely distributed order, they have attracted little notice from zoologists. Centipedes are carnivorous, feeding on insects and their larvæ, and occasionally worms and other small animals. The account by F. G. Sinclair in "The Cambridge Natural History" (1895) is still the most comprehensive survey of the group; but recent observations are at variance on certain points. Sinclair describes the breeding habits of Lithobius forficatus, and states: "If the male Lithobius sees the egg, he makes a rush at the female, seizes the egg and at once devours it". No reference is made as to the manner in which centipedes recognize their food, but it is implied that the sense of sight is used. Now Lithobius is almost invariably nocturnal, and can only be found in day-time underneath stones and piles of dead leaves. That it is negatively phototactic and positively thigmotactic has been confirmed by simple experiments. The eyes are clusters of ocelli, 25–50 in number, present in many groups of Lithobiidæ but absent in some. It would appear unlikely that the sense of sight is used in the recognition of food, and indeed, this has been proved experimentally by painting the eyes with black pigment. Nor is the sense of smell employed. Experimental observations indicate that Lithobius hunts for its prey by the sense of touch, which is extremely sensitive. Centipedes appear oblivious to the presence of food unless they happen to touch it with the base of the antenna.

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CLOUDSLEY-THOMPSON, J. Behaviour of the Common Centipede Lithobius forficatus. Nature 156, 537–538 (1945).

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