Too cold for a centipede

Mary caught a centipede in the house, and I was going to take a quick picture of it…but it was way too active. So I had the bright idea of bringing it to the lab, and just carry it outside as I walked in. I had it in a large plastic container that I figured would provide some thermal insulation.

It was not enough.

Before I reached the end of the driveway, it was immobile — that was less than a minute. It took another 3 or 4 minutes to get to work, and it looked dead and frozen. I took a picture anyway. This is a sad, corpselike centipede. Whoops. I was pretty sure I’d killed it with surprising speed. I guess -20°C isn’t healthy for small invertebrates.

And then it started twitching as it warmed up. Now it’s fully recovered. I guess centipedes are harder to kill than I thought.


  1. bjnich2 says

    Just chillin’. I use a stint in the refrigerator to slow down fireflies for photography. Doesn’t take long to warm them up. Scutigera coleoptrata are creepy fast, but they’re great houseguests and eat less desireable arthropods.

  2. PaulBC says

    That doesn’t surprise me. I’ve seen how arthropods “slow down” in the cold and eventually stop moving without dying. Isn’t that the whole idea behind putting lobsters on ice? Nice to have a happy ending.

  3. markp8703 says

    My Favourite Microscopist (his official title), Spike Walker, chilled a ruby-tailed wasp he found and imaged it.

    I believe that once warmed up again it flew away seemingly happy. I think it placed in one of the Wellcome Image Awards a decade or so ago.

    Recently I saw somebody on Twitter post a near identical image; I felt it was a direct copy.

  4. imback says

    I had thought centipede implies 100 legs. But checking Wikipedia, it says that while centipede species can have a varying number of legs ranging from 30 to 382, there is no centipede with exactly 100 legs since they always have an odd number of pairs. Meanwhile, millipedes only have an even number of pairs of legs. Also, centipedes are mainly carnivores while millipedes are mainly herbivores.

  5. davidc1 says

    Careful Doc,some people on here will accuse you of posting trivial things while are thoughts and prayers should be with them plucky Ukrainians.
    Chortle ,chortle.

  6. davidc1 says

    This is way,way way off target.Just had an email from Shell energy ,they are the gits that supply my electricity .
    Because of the price cap ending in April they are putting their prices up,the bastards.
    I sent them an email,and this is what I wrote.

    “I think you are taking the piss,and you and all the other energy companies are a bunch of robbing bastards.
    I haven’t decided what I am going to do yet,I might stop using my electric cooker and economy 10 heating and get LPG equipment .
    Any way ,there is no way I am paying you an extra £666 a year.
    So go piss up a rope”.
    What do you think,too subtle?

  7. flakko says

    When I was a kid we used to catch wasps and put them in the freezer. When they were immobilized we would quickly and gently tie a thread around the petiole. When it came out of its frozen stupor, we would have a wasp on a leash.

    One time we had a wasp flying around in the circle made by the thread. It landed on the thread, started chewing, and a minute later flew away with a segment of thread still attached. It’s like the wasp figured out what the problem was and realized how to rectify the situation.

  8. dangerousbeans says

    If we’re doing centipede facts, they also have the appendages on their second segment specialised as a type of stinger (forcipules). you can see these in PZ’s photo, they are what look like the first legs below the centipedes head.

  9. StevoR says

    Good myriapoda ( ) aricle via BBC here on one of that class that really is very leggy indeed – Illacme plenipes :

    Then there’s the one true millipede albiet not an exact number and actually excessive – Eumillipes persephone :

    Plus see this one minute long youtube clip on our leggiest known critter .

    Fun fact – a scientist who specialises in millipedes is called a diplopodologist and the the scientific study of millipedes is known as diplopodology. Millipede wikipage though googling for that seems to result in, um, pretty much zilch for that sadly.,Millipede wikipage also notes :

    The differences between millipedes and centipedes are a common question from the general public.[26] Both groups of myriapods share similarities, such as long, multi-segmented bodies, many legs, a single pair of antennae, and the presence of postantennal organs, but have many differences and distinct evolutionary histories, as the most recent common ancestor of centipedes and millipedes lived around 450 to 475 million years ago in the Silurian.[27] The head alone exemplifies the differences; millipedes have short, geniculate (elbowed) antennae for probing the substrate, a pair of robust mandibles and a single pair of maxillae fused into a lip; centipedes have long, threadlike antennae, a pair of small mandibles, two pairs of maxillae and a pair of large poison claws.

    Here in Adelaide, South Oz, we used to have an issue with introduced Portugese millipedes which exploded in plague proportions becoming quite a nusiance when I was growing up. They were rather inoffensive really but absolutely stank when accidentally (often unavoidably) stepped on and got everywhere including into homes and schools and all over railway lines and elsewhere. An issue now largely solved by an introduced nematrode parasitic predator on (& in!) them.