Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Feeding a Centipede

Feeding a Centipede

Centipedes are active predators, which roam around at night looking for small arthropods, which they sieze and poison with their fangs. The prey is then chewed up with the powerful mouthparts and swallowed a small piece at a time. Salivary glands inside the mouth begin the process of digestion, and the food is passed on to a chamber inside the digestive tract known as the "gizzard" or "crop". Here, muscular actions break the food into tiny particles before passing it on to the three-chambered stomach and intestines, where the food is completely broken down. The resulting molecules of nutrient pass directly through the walls of the digestive tract and into the blood, where it is carried to all of the individual cells of the centipede's body. Waste products are filtered from the blood by a network of Malphigian tubes, which carry wastes to the posterior portion of the intestines. Here, the excess water is extracted and the remaining dry waste is excreted through the anus in the form of dry fecal pellets.

Most centipedes will accept only live food, since it is the movement and vibrations of the prey that allow the centipede to detect it (centipedes have very poor eyesight). Occasionally, a centipede may come across a dead prey item and recognize it by its scent, but many captive centipedes will refuse to eat prekilled food.

For the most part, centipedes will eat any small animal that they can overpower with their venomous fangs. Smaller centipedes can comfortably kill and devour prey such as mealworms, earthworms, small beetles, and small crickets. Adult tropical scolopendromorphs can handle waxworms, large beetles, crickets, pinkie mice and even small lizards or frogs. A fullgrown Peruvian or Vietnamese centipede is capable of killing and eating adult mice, but this practice should be avoided, as the sharp teeth of an adult mouse are capable of penetrating the exoskeleton of a centipede and causing fatal injury. Week-old mice that have not yet grown any fur, known as "pinkies", are not capable of biting and are a much safer food item for captive centipedes.

Centipedes can also be fed beetles, caterpillars, cockroaches and other insects that are captured outside. Be sure these are obtained from areas where they have not been exposed to pesticides.

Because of their low metabolic rate, centipedes do not require a large food intake. One or two crickets, mealworms or waxworms every three or four days is a sufficient intake for small centipedes. Larger adults can be fed one or two prey items a day. It is not unusual for a centipede to go several days without eating anything, only to "binge" and gulp down as many as ten prey items in a single day. Simply give the centipede as much to eat as it wants. If it is not hungry, it will not eat. If necessary, centipedes can go several weeks without food, but they should not be subjected to this stress.

It is important to keep the centipede's cage scrupulously clean, to avoid mite and fly infestations. Uneaten prey and the remains of meals should be removed as soon as possible to avoid attracting parasites.

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