Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Breeding Centipedes

Breeding Centipedes

It is extremely difficult to tell an adult male centipede from a female. Since centipedes are rapacious predators and are cannibals as well, breeding can be a risky affair in captivity, and often the only way to determine if a breeding pair is compatible is to introduce them to each other and hope for the best.

Centipedes mate in the manner typical of many arthropods -- the male produces a packet of sperm called a spermatophore, which is taken up by the female and stored in a pair of internal sacs known as spermathacae, where it is used to fertilize her eggs. In some species, the spermatophore is inserted directly into the female's body by the male; in most, the spermatophore is simply left lying on the ground where it is later found and picked up by the female. Females are capable of maintaining live sperm in their spermathacae for a considerable length of time, and can still lay viable eggs over six months after their last mating.

A typical clutch will contain between 20 and 60 eggs. In the scolopendromorph centipedes, the female will curl protectively around the egg clutch and defend it against predators. She will also periodically lick the eggs to prevent fungus from growing on them. The eggs hatch in about a month, and the young centipedes remain close to their mother for another month or so before dispersing.

The scolopendromorphs and geophilomorphs have a pattern of growth known as epimorphosis, which means that the young are born with their full number of body segments. The scutigeromorphs and lithiobiomorphs, by contrast, undergo anamophosis. They are born with fewer segments than adults and continually add segments to their body with each molt until they are full grown. Large centipedes can take as long as three years to reach sexual maturity. Once they reach full size, they can continue to molt, but will not add any more body segments.

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